Singapore

SMRT has high culpability in fatal accident: Judge

Transport operator fined $400,000 over deaths of two trainees last year

A district judge was scathing in his remarks on SMRT Trains after imposing a record $400,000 fine yesterday on the company over an accident last year in which two trainees died.

Meting out the deterrent fine, District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt found that SMRT's culpability was high and that the "failures were fundamental and serious".

What the employees were doing on the day in question was highly dangerous, he said.

He said that while it was revealed that there were operating procedures in existence, they, sadly, were "not worth the paper on which these were printed, if they were printed at all".

SMRT had pleaded guilty yesterday to one charge under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for failing to take measures necessary to ensure the safety and health of its employees who had to access the train tracks during traffic hours.

On March 22 last year, two trainees died when a train hit them shortly after they stepped onto the tracks, in SMRT's worst fatal rail incident.

Mr Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 26, and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24, were part of a 15-member team sent to check on an apparent fault when they were hit by the train near Pasir Ris MRT station.

In his remarks, the judge noted the scale of the lapses and SMRT's ignorance of its staff's practices.

He said: "It was also highly disconcerting and aggravating that the failures were systemic and had occurred on many levels, and that, at the very least, SMRT ought to have known of these failures, even if it did not in fact know of them."

He went into further details on the operating procedures and said that not only were these not followed, but a completely different and clearly unsafe set of practices had been adopted for a long time by SMRT employees.

HAPHAZARD

The practices appeared to have evolved in a haphazard fashion to suit the convenience of the employees. These were neither documented nor disseminated. The official safety protocols were either unknown or completely disregarded.

The judge also found that the potential for harm was high.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Anandan Bala said this was not a one-off incident.

As early as 2002, the Operations Control Centre, which is in charge of granting permission for and supervising track access, had been approving requests that did not comply with the operating procedures.

This was SMRT's third transgression of workplace safety within a short span of 5½ years, he said.

In mitigation, SMRT's lawyers, Senior Counsel Andre Maniam and Ms Jenny Tsin, said the company has reviewed and tightened its operating procedures.

Mr Maniam said his client failed to detect that the employees had deviated from the operating procedures to minimise disruption of train services, albeit while maintaining adequate safety standards.

He said: "These deviations were never documented, approved or authorised by SMRT for the simple reason that SMRT did not know of them."

Both trainees' families declined comment when contacted. The company could have been fined up to $500,000.

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