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Jurong Rig Horror: Why, why, why?

Accident with mass casualties raises questions like why SCDF and police weren't called and why there was only one gangway. -TNP
Linette Heng, Elizabeth Law and Syahirah Anwar

Fri, Dec 07, 2012
The New Paper

SINGAPORE - The oil rig accident at Jurong Shipyard happened at 10.30am on Monday.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) was told of what had happened. But the police were informed only more than two hours later, by a third party.

And the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was not even notified.

It found out only after its sources said there were mass casualties at certain hospitals after the jack-up rig had tilted, spilling some workers into the sea and injuring 89 others.

By regulation, MOM has to be informed in the case of an industrial accident.

On Tuesday, a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) spokesman told The New Paper that in a serious industrial accident, the employer should generally alert the emergency services so that they can help the injured.

The police and SCDF, however, confirmed that they were not notified.

An SCDF spokesman said on Tuesday: "When a serious industrial accident occurs, the employer should alert the SCDF promptly so that we can send the necessary resources to render assistance in firefighting, rescue and emergency ambulance services."

When officers from Jurong Fire Station arrived at the shipyard at about 1pm, they were told multiple casualties had been taken to the hospital and there was nothing for them to do.

It was reported on Tuesday that some injured workers were taken to the clinic at the shipyard. Others were taken to the hospitals in lorries.

Responding to queries by TNP, a Sembcorp Marine spokesman said it had not alerted SCDF and the police because its in-house medical team was able to handle the situation.

But experts contacted by TNP were surprised that emergency help was not called in.

Mr Raj Singh, director of consultancy firm Safety@Work, thought the shipyard could have handled the situation better.

He said: "I found it quite strange that they didn't call for help. If it was just a small injury, they could have just taken them to the clinic.

"But a rig had toppled. It should be classified as a serious case that would be beyond the expertise of their own emergency team."

Dr Dana Elliott Srither, a medical director at Liferesus, said: "The company should not have taken matters into their own hands. Their protocol in any accident should always include SCDF."

Nonetheless, Mr Singh, who has shipyard experience of almost 20 years, noted that an accident of this scale is rare and Sembcorp Marine could have been caught unawares.

But this does not mean emergency plans should not be in place.

"People cannot be complacent and take things for granted," Mr Singh said.

Overlooked in panic

Mr Zainudin Nordin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, also noted that calling the authorities could have been overlooked in a state of panic.

But he said that proper procedures and standard operating procedures (SOP) must be adhered to.

Mr Roy Yeo of Bond International, a safety audit firm, said the shipyard could have just been following its SOP.

"Usually, if it's a life-and-death situation, there is a need to immediately call the ambulance.

"But sometimes, it is possible that companies have certain SOPs which employees are afraid of violating," he said.

But Mr Yeo thinks that the number of casualties involved in this incident would have required them to call the SCDF.

He said: "Yes, you can have company or site doctors who can tend to these patients first, but when there are more than 10 casualties, they should call people better equipped to handle such situations like SCDF."

Dr Clarence Yeo, a general practitioner at Killiney Family and Wellness Clinic, said it was important for SCDF to be contacted so it can alert hospitals to prepare for mass casualties.

Mr Zainudin said: "Considering the nature of the incident, it would make sense to alert the relevant authorities to get as much as help as possible to mitigate the emergency at hand."

WHY...only one gangway?

When the Nobel Regina Allen oil rig tilted on Monday, the 980 workers on board had only one narrow metal gangwayto get off the rig.

Sembcorp Marine chief executive officer Wong Weng Sun said at a press conference on Tuesday that there were usually two gangways for workers to get on and off the rig.

However, one had been taken off over the weekend because there were fewer people working. This was also to facilitate the jacking tests that took place when the accident happened.

Ms Judy Han, senior vice-president of Investor Relations & Communications, said: "It is only when this finished on Monday, that the gangway was to be put back."

But was this one passage enough for about 1,000 people?

Consulting firm Safety@Work director Raj Singh told The New Paper that such gangways are usually only 1.2 to 1.5 metres wide.

Two at a time

"At most, two people could go through at a time. There should have been plans in place to activate emergency gangways or boats," he said.

Similarly, safety consultant Roy Yeo of Bond International stressed the importance of emergency evacuation plans.

"Usually at every workplace, there would be some sort of safety assessment where emergency evacuation plans are worked out. Every time the layout of the area changes, these safety plans would have to be reassessed," he said.

In shipyards and buildings under construction, where the layout changes daily, it can be tedious to have experts come in to check the area every time it changes.

This is why most shipyard employees and managers are trained to assess the safety of a worksite, Mr Yeo said.

"In my understanding of a shipyard, it is best to have a few (exits) nearest to where the workers are," he said.

However, an oil rig insurance and risk management expert told TNP that having just one gangway between a rig and a dock is common in shipyards. He cannot be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

"Is this the safest way? Yes, because marine engineering is not as straightforward as one might think. Furthermore, there aren't usually 1,000 people working on a rig at once."

The underwriter, with 13 years of experience, added that large shipyards here would have gone through safety assessments to get their risk assessment warranty.

This is done by an independent safety surveyor such as UK-based company BMT Marine & Offshore Surveys.

"I know for a fact that the shipyards in Singapore have some of the highest safety standards in the world because some of them have been clients of mine," he said.

WHY...were lorries used for evacuation?

Two doctors were surprised that the 89 injured workers were taken to hospitals in lorries.

The doctors, who spoke to The New Paper, expressed concern that moving them in such a manner could have worsened their injuries.

They said the victims could have been put at further risk as there was no proper medical equipment, such as oxygen tanks and cervical collars, on the lorries.

Dr Dana Elliott Srither, 38, a medical director at Liferesus said: "As doctors, we always worry about the trauma faced by victims.

"It is very dangerous for the injured to be moved onto lorries by untrained personnel."

He said fractures or bone injuries sustained may not be visible, and moving victims without proper equipment could further aggravate their injuries.

He said they could have been at risk of head and neck injuries, especially as some workers had jumped about three storeys into the water to save themselves.

"It's very important that the cervical vertebrae (part of the spinal bone which is located in the neck) are protected as any wrong movement could paralyse the victim," cautioned Dr Dana.

His sentiments were echoed by Dr Clarence Yeo, 40, a general practitioner at Killiney Family and Wellness Clinic, who said that jumping into water from a height could potentially result in spinal injuries.

Medically appropriate

"The victims should have been evacuated in a medically appropriate manner, especially those in a critical situation," he said.

"Spinal injuries have to be ascertained by trained personnel before a victim can be moved.

"Victims would also require proper care and equipment, which can only be provided for in ambulances."

Sembcorp Marine explains why

Emergency services were not alerted immediately because the in-house medical team was able to handle the situation, Sembcorp Marine said in an e-mail response to The New Paper on Tuesday night.

The company, which runs Jurong Shipyard, said it had one in-house doctor and four "industrial nurses", who attended to injured workers at the shipyard's medical centre.

The team called for reinforcement from Jurong Medical Centre when they were unable to cope with the increasing number of injuries.

A doctor and three more nurses were sent to the scene.

Ambulances

It was then decided the injured should receive medical attention in hospital. Those with back pain, chest complaints and possible head injuries were taken to hospital in ambulances.

It is not clear who these ambulances belonged to.

"Our HR Response Team consulted the in-house doctor to use other transportation to send injured workers with minor injuries to the hospitals expediently," the company's spokesman said.

"The in-house doctor concurred as the focus was to have the injured workers attended to at the hospitals promptly."

linheng@sph.com.sg, lawsm@sph.com.sg and sanwar@sph.com.sg


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