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1 worker dead, 2 in ICU after inhaling poisonous fumes in first incident of its kind

Aqil Hamzah
The times of the strait
May 23, 2024

A 40-year-old worker died after inhaling poisonous gas while carrying out routine tank cleaning at national water agency PUB’s Choa Chu Kang Waterworks on May 23. The worker, of Indian nationality, was one of three men between 24 and 40 years old. who had collapsed and were found unconscious in the plant around 11:15 a.m. The three were taken unconscious to the hospital, where the worker died. The two surviving workers are in the intensive care unit of Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, PUB said in a statement. The two men are Malaysians, aged 24 and 39, and are employed as general workers, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement. MOM added that the man who died was a cleaning operations manager and, along with the older Malaysian, was an employee of Supersonic Maintenance Services. The young Malaysian works for Stargroup Est. The ministry said he is investigating and has ordered PUB to stop all tank cleaning work. PUB, in a statement, said early investigations suggested the workers had inhaled hydrogen sulphide, a gas produced from sludge, which is a by-product of the water treatment process. Cleaning work at the plant is routinely carried out once every three months. In response to questions, the Singapore Civil Defense Force (SCDF) said it was alerted to a hazmat (hazardous materials) incident at 51 Nanyang Drive at around 11.25am Firefighters and hazmat specialists in protective gear Staff used two jets of water to disperse the poisonous gas. After about an hour of “vapor dispersion,” no more hydrogen sulfide was detected at the plant, SCDF said. He added that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was performed on one of the workers on the way to the hospital. The police have ruled out that a crime has been committed. Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas that gives off the smell of rotten eggs, according to an entry on the website of the United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh). Exposure to the gas can cause irritation to the eyes and respiratory system, and can lead to problems such as falling into a coma. Workers in wastewater treatment industries are an at-risk group, the Niosh website states. MOM said that as a general safety measure, adequate ventilation should be provided to prevent the build-up of toxic fumes. Workers should also be equipped with gas control devices and personal protective equipment for their safety, he added. The Choa Chu Kang Water Plant is a key element in Singapore’s goal of achieving water security and supplies 80 million gallons of drinking water to the western part of the island, according to an environmental impact assessment released in 2022. Plant upgrades began in 2022 and work is scheduled to be completed in 2026. PUB said it has called a safety timeout for similar operations in confined spaces and is reviewing associated safety measures. It said: “Safety and health in all our workplaces is of utmost importance to PUB. “We will cooperate fully with the investigation.” The agency expressed its condolences to the family of the worker who died and said it was in contact with its contractors and would provide support to the workers’ families. In response to queries, PUB said this is the first time such an incident has occurred.

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