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Worker safety remains top priority in the Pasir Panjang oil spill clean-up: Grace Fu

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong seeks clarification from the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment on the precautions to protect workers.
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The safety of workers involved in the oil spill clean-up of Singapore’s beachfront in Pasir Panjang is the Government’s utmost priority, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) Grace Fu in Parliament on 2 July 2024.


She was responding to NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong’s parliamentary question on the training and precautions for workers involved in the clean-up.


Ms Fu said that the National Environment Agency (NEA) constantly monitors ambient levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and that the workers involved in the clean-up are familiar with their roles and responsibilities.


She added that the NEA has also issued advisories to workers regarding the correct use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).


“We have reminded cleaning contractors to ensure that workers receive rest days and consider rotating workers where possible. Workers who feel unwell should approach their employer for support and assistance,” she said.


The Pasir Panjang oil spill incident


On 14 June 2024, Vox Maxima – a Netherlands-flagged dredging boat – suffered a sudden loss of engine and steering control and collided with a stationary bunker vessel, Marine Honour, at Pasir Panjang Terminal.


The collision damaged one of Marine Honour’s tanks, leaking 400 tonnes of low-sulphur oil into the sea and staining coastlines in Sentosa, East Coast Park and Keppel Bay.


No injuries were reported from the accident.


The Government said that the first phase of the clean-up operation, which involved removing oil slicks and contaminated sand from the surface of affected beaches and deploying booms to avoid further contamination, is complete.


All remaining affected areas have entered the second clean-up phase, focusing on difficult-to-clean areas like rock bunds, breakwaters, and oil trapped deeper in the sand.


The Government is also considering mobilising volunteers for the final clean-up phase, which involves sieving and removing remnant oil deposits that have mixed with sand and hardened into tar balls.


“This process is labour-intensive, and if we have more hands to help, we can relieve the cleaners and accelerate the re-opening of the beaches,” said Ms Fu.


Dangers of VOC


Mr Yong also filed a separate parliamentary question with MSE regarding the safety measures to safeguard workers at PUB, which was not answered by the end of the question time.


This comes after three workers were taken to hospital after inhaling VOC at PUB's Choa Chu Kang Waterworks on 28 May 2024.


Two of the three workers have since passed on.


During a cleaning routine, the workers had inhaled hydrogen sulphide gas while draining sludge from one of the plant’s pulsator tanks.


Hydrogen sulphide is a colourless gas with a pungent odour at low concentrations. It is extremely flammable and highly toxic.


In a written response, MSE said that PUB immediately issued a Board-wide safety time-out after the incident. It then conducted comprehensive checks on its processes and safety procedures in its water treatment facilities.


MSE said that checks were made on work management in confined spaces and locations with known risks of exposure to toxic gases and chemicals.


Work has resumed across all of PUB’s facilities, save for Choa Chu Kang Waterworks, where the Ministry of Manpower’s Stop Work Order is still in force.