SINGAPORE – The boss of Stars Engrg broke down in tears as he recounted how he felt after an explosion at the company’s Tuas workshop killed three of his workers, including one he said was more than just an employee for him.
Chua Xingda, 37, the sole director of the fire protection company, said he was deeply saddened and touched by the incident on February 24.
The explosion at approximately 11:20 a.m. that morning in the workshop at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 injured eight of its workers, three of whom subsequently died.
Testifying for the third day on Monday (September 27) before a commission of inquiry, Mr. Chua said that Mr Subbaiyan Marimuthu, aged 38, was a highly regarded worker.
“(The relationship) between me and Marimuthu was more than just an employee and a business owner,” he said, crying.
“He has worked for me for many years…I am very touched.”
Mr. Marimuthu has worked with Mr. Chua for over six years and has been a trusted supervisor.
He was one of the three who died of severe burns that covered 90 percent of their bodies.
Mr Chua said he was also deeply affected by the loss of two other workers, Mr Anisusman MD, 29, Mr Shuhel MD, 23, and the condition of the other workers injured in the blast.
He told the committee that the company provides and will continue to provide financial aid to the families of the deceased workers, and send their full salaries every month.
When asked what the company is doing to help the injured workers, Chua said it is helping them in any way it can, paying for treatment and operations.
“All they need is we say OK. We’ll never say or think it’s not necessary,” he said.
“I have never, from the accident until now, changed any of them.”
Monday was the last day that Mr. Chua testified before the Commission.
He was questioned about the operations at the Tawas workshop, work safety procedures, and the mixer machine that were linked to the explosion.
Stars Engrg made an insulating material called a fire casing by using a machine that heats oil, then heats water and mixes it with ingredients, including potato starch.
The device, which was purchased through Alibaba’s online platform, was installed in Tuas’ workshop in June last year.
There were several red flags related to the machine prior to the explosion, including leaks, smoke, and fires.
Less than three hours before the explosion, the machine caught fire again, but was put out by workers.
Mr Chua said he tried to instill a culture of safety at work among workers, threatening them with fines for not wearing proper clothing but not distributing any.
Instead, he said he would scold them and give them stern warnings.
He added that he did not expect the machine to explode.
He said, “If I had known this thing was going to explode, I wouldn’t have bought this. Why would I need to buy a time bomb?”
The commission was told that prior to the explosion, the machine was glowing red, with Mr Chua estimating that the temperature was around 700 degrees Celsius.
Chua was also unable to answer many questions about the machine and safety procedures, saying that he had rated the safety risk as low and that he really believed it was safe.
He testified last Thursday about how he convinced Mr Marimuthu that the machine was not dangerous, even after the worker said he was afraid.
The first batch of hearings will run until October 8, while the second batch is expected to run from November 15-19.
Lwin Moe Tun, the company’s project engineer, was initially scheduled to testify on Tuesday, but the panel was told he was feeling unwell.
He allegedly deleted the photos and messages from his and Mr Marimuthu’s phone after the explosion, but they were recovered by the police.
The state attorney’s team led by Ms Kristi Tan said four workers injured in the blast will testify first this week, and submit their statements to the panel chaired by Senior District Judge Aung Hian Sun.
Investigators from the Singapore Civil Defense Force and the Ministry of Manpower are also expected to testify in the coming days.