SINGAPORE, July 22 — A company that operated a Tuas industrial plant, where three workers were killed and seven others were injured in an explosion and fire last year, was charged yesterday (July 21) with workplace safety offences.

This came several months after an inquiry committee found possible criminal conduct committed by Stars Engrg, its sole director Chua Xing Da and production manager Lwin Moe Tun.

Chua, a 38-year-old Singaporean, and Lwin Moe Tun, a 32-year-old Myanmarese, were similarly charged on Tuesday with workplace safety offences.

They are also accused of obstructing justice, in relation to Lwin Moe Tun deleting WhatsApp messages between himself and one of the workers who died from the explosion on Feb 24 last year.

The blast and fire at the industrial building located at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 killed three workers who suffered 90 per cent burns: Subbaiyan Marimuthu, 38, from India, as well as Anisuzzaman Md, 29, and Shohel Md, 23, who were both from Bangladesh.

The site was used as a workshop to produce fire-rated insulation wrap.

Seven other workers — five from Stars Engrg and two from a neighbouring unit — were injured in the accident. They suffered serious burn injuries, including burns that covered 35 per cent to 58 per cent of their total body surface area.

The inquiry committee, which released its findings after a weeks-long hearing into the blast, found that a mixer machine exploded primarily due to the company’s failure and dereliction of duty to ensure its safe use.

This resulted in excessive pressure on the machine’s oil jacket, causing mechanical failure and rupture of the welds.

The machine was used to mix water, potato starch and other materials to make fire clay, a key component of the insulation wrap.

The committee said that Stars Engrg did not properly investigate these incidents and allowed the machine to continue operating, despite “multiple warning signs that the machine could pose a risk to safety and health, such as oil leaks and fires”.

Chua apparently installed and commissioned the mixer machine bought from Chinese online retailer Alibaba despite having insufficient knowledge on how the mixer machine was to be safely used.

He was also the person responsible for instructing Stars Engrg's workers on dealing with the mixer machine, despite having insufficient knowledge.

The charges

Stars Engrg has been charged under the Workplace Safety and Health Act on two counts. Court documents showed that it allegedly failed to ensure that: Its employees got adequate training and supervision to operate the heated mixer machine The mixer was safe for use when operated by employees Its employees operated it in a safe environment This then led to the fatal blast.

As for the two men, Lwin Moe Tun faces three charges in total, while Chua faces two.

Lwin Moe Tun purportedly committed a negligent act that endangered the safety of Stars Engrg’s employees by allowing them to conduct repairs on a damaged heater, which was a component of the heated mixer machine.

As a production manager, he oversaw the production of fire-retardant wraps.

Then, on two consecutive days following the blast, he supposedly deleted a message and photograph from a WhatsApp conversation between himself and Marimuthu, one of the deceased employees, from the worker’s mobile phone.

The material showed the unsafe changing of a faulty heater and was evidence of an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, court documents stated.

Chua apparently told Lwin Moe Tun that it was “ok” for him to delete the communications.

Experts previously testified that the heaters in the mixer machine may have reached temperatures of up to 1,095ºC at some point, although the machine was mainly used to heat up water with a boiling point of 100ºC.

Chua was offered a bail of S$20,000 (RM64,087), while Lwin Moe Thun was offered S$50,000 bail. They will return to court on August 31.

If convicted of obstructing the course of justice under the Penal Code, they could be jailed for up to seven years or fined, or punished with both.

Stars Engrg could be fined up to S$500,000 if convicted under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

Lwin Moe Tun could be jailed for up to two years or fined up to S$30,000, or both, if convicted of committing a negligent act endangering the safety or health or himself or others at work. ― TODAY