According to a statement by the Ministry of Manpower on February 28, said it’s been more than a decade that SMRT trains have failed to comply with the approved operating procedures to ensure the safety of its workers.
These instances of non-compliance dating as far as way back in 2002, came to light after the Ministry started investigating the train operator last year, following an incident that killed two of its trainees on the train tracks near Pasir Ris MRT Station on March 22. The victims who were part of a 15-member team went onto the tracks to check on a warning signal from a monitoring device.
A court hearing from the judge on Tuesday (February 28) imposed a record S$400,000 fine on the train operator, SMRT for its role in the accident to be paid by March 6. The operator has been breaching a number of safety protocols meant to protect workers in case of fatal accidents, not followed in these years. These lapses have been “systemic” and have taken place “on many levels,” Today reports.
On at least 200 occasions in 2015, staff had access to train tracks with limited clearance during traffic hours, but safety rules were flouted in the bulk of them, investigations showed. While SMRT had safety operating procedures in place, these were “not worth the paper on which these were printed, if they were printed at all”, said District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt as he handed down the ruling.
SMRT Trains was hauled to court in December for flouting the Workplace Safety and Health Act. On Tuesday, the operator admitted to failing to ensure employees complied with approved operating procedures when accessing the train track, and neglecting to ensure that the actual actions had passed safety audits, and were documented and disseminated.
In last year’s accident, there were at least nine deviations from protocol, ranging from improper signage to the lack of a red flag or flashing light placed at least 15m in front of the worksite.
District Judge Chay further added that, the train operator not only violated the operating procedures and the standard protocol of norms to be followed to ensure worker safety, the employees further adopted a completely different and unsafe set of practices for the longest period of time.
“The actual practices appeared to have evolved over time in a haphazard fashion to suit the convenience of the employees and these were neither documented nor disseminated.” Employees were left to adopt any practice deemed convenient, and either disregarded the official safety protocols or had no knowledge of them, the judge added.
“SMRT has failed to ensure that procedures practised by employees on the ground were duly audited, documented and disseminated. This resulted in an unsafe workplace that eventually led to the death of two of its employees,” said the MOM. “The stiff sentence imposed serves as a deterrence against companies that do not exercise sufficient diligence in implementing a workplace safety and health management system.”
Mr Chan Yew Kwong, director of MOM’s Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate, added: “Companies need to manage workplace safety and health risks in order to protect their employees. Many workplace injuries and fatalities can be traced to organisational and system failures in the overall management of workplace safety.”
The National Transport Workers’ Union said it hopes SMRT will “take a serious view on workplace safety issues.”
In a statement issued after sentencing, SMRT Trains managing director Lee Ling Wee said the operator accepted full responsibility. “We have comprehensively reviewed our safety protocols and procedures, and are determined to never again have a repeat of the 22 March 2016 tragedy.”
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