SINGAPORE: A malfunction on a conveyor system and dislodged pipeline supplying Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) led to a fatal fire at Summit Gas Systems’ LPG facility last June, according to a report by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) published on Tuesday (Mar 10).
The fire that broke out at the 43 Jalan Buroh facility on Jun 21 last year killed one worker and injured two others. All three workers were Chinese nationals.
Investigations continue to establish responsibilities of the various parties, MOM added.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) had described the blaze, which lasted for more than two hours, as the largest LPG fire it had to deal with, involving hundreds of highly flammable LPG cylinders at a facility about the size of two football fields.
Providing details of the sequence of events, MOM said before the fire, a pneumatic stopper had malfunctioned. The stoppers hold empty LPG cylinders waiting to be filled in a queue on a conveyor system.
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As the semi-automated conveyor belt was still running, the cylinders collided against one another, causing the cylinder at the front of the queue to be misaligned.
A machine then pushed the cylinder into a filling station on a rotating carousel. But as the cylinder was misaligned, it fell into a gap between two filing stations.
The toppled cylinder hit an exposed small-bore LPG pipeline between the filing stations on the carousel. This caused the pipeline to dislodge, releasing LPG gas into the open that subsequently ignited.
The source of the ignition is unknown, but a MOM spokesperson said that it is likely from an electric or static charge.
The three workers involved were operating the conveyor system, manually connecting and disconnecting the filling head to each cylinder.
They fled the scene once the fire broke out, but their ability to run was hindered as the escape route was restricted by a large number of cylinders placed around the conveyor system, the report noted. They were also not in fireproof gear.
MOM issued four learning points it hopes other companies, particularly those in the chemicals industry, will adhere to following the fatal incident:
- Small-bore pipelines are vulnerable to external impact. Protective barriers should be placed around them to minimise the risk of accidental damage and harmful consequences.
- Each of the system’s units had separate power switches. They should instead be connected to a master switch that can shut the entire process down during emergency situations.
- Workers in areas where flammable substances are present should wear fire-retardant clothing.
- All workplaces must have an effective emergency response protocol in place to any fire or explosion. For workplaces handling LPG or other flammable substances, there must be effective means to cut off the main supply of flammable substances at multiple locations. Persons are to be appointed and trained for this.
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The MOM spokesperson said that while it is not mandatory for companies to implement the recommendations, the report serves a “record of what is expected (of these firms)”. It could be used to assess a similar company’s liability if it is is found to have comparable lapses in the future.
Summit Gas Systems is currently rebuilding its plant with MOM’s help, the ministry’s spokesperson said.