On Tuesday (28 Feb), SMRT was fined $400,000 for safety lapses that led to the death of two workers on the train tracks near Pasir Ris Station. The verdict came nearly one year after the accident took place on 22 Mar 2016.

The court heard that there were “systemic failures” by SMRT to enforce compliance.

SMRT pleaded guilty to the charge under the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA). It took two deaths for the lapses to come to light. Lapses, which, according to MOM in its statement started as early as 2002.

Not only were the (safety procedures) not followed, a completely different and clearly unsafe set of practices had been adopted for the longest time by SMRT employees. The actual practices appeared to have evolved over time in a haphazard fashion to suit the convenience of the employees … who were very much left to adopt whatever practice they deemed convenient”.

It is tragic that convenience took precedence over safety, and it took the lives of two young men – Mr Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 26, and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24 who were new to the place.

NO EXCUSES FOR SAFETY LAPSES

Large organisations like SMRT, and perhaps other companies such as those in the construction and oil & gas sectors where the workers face higher risks at work have to reflect on this incident. The issue could be that of a complex organisational structure, where the lapses and risks are not visible/not immediately apparent to those in senior management. Or a failure to have the workplace safety audits done by external parties and to immediately plug any gaps.

It could also be that with all the situations of trains breaking down, that workers felt pressured to run against time to meet deadlines and therefore a culture of “cutting corners to save time” emerged.

SAFETY IS EVERYONE’s RESPONSIBILITY

It is not enough to leave safety in the hands of supervisors, this tragedy has said as much. It is also not enough to pay lip service to workplace safety. Those in middle and top management have to personally take responsibility to ensure that safety is never compromised because of the bottom line. Ingrain it in the workplace culture.

Today, whether SMRT was fined or not (media called it a “record fine”), or whether SMRT has since “comprehensively reviewed our safety protocols and procedures,” (so the spokesperson said), to the families of the deceased, these may well be words that mean nothing.

No one wants their family member’s death to be the “main character” in a case study on workplace safety lapses. Still, they may hopefully be somewhat consoled by the fact that justice has been served and future accidents prevented.

Perhaps a public apology to the family from SMRT would be in order and we wish the families all the best, in moving forward with their lives.