THE recent tragedy in which six Filipino labourers died after accidently inhaling carbon monoxide while cleaning a tank at the Kampong Lawa Gadong Water Treatment plant in Beaufort, Sabah, has once again highlighted the poor work safety at the workplace.
This is not the first such incident. Over the years, a number of labourers have died while working in confined spaces at shipyards, silos or manholes when carrying out sewerage repairs or when doing maintenance works.
It is interesting to note that accidents in confined spaces display several common features. The work to be done is not a routine one and it is irregular. The person involved is usually a contract employee with poor safety awareness and education and few or none of the standard safeguards are provided to them. In most cases, safe practices and procedures are neglected and people with basic first-aid and CPR skills are not available when needed.
Those who work in confined spaces are exposed to risks and dangers that usually result in fatality. In 2001, nine workers were killed while repairing a ship in Pasir Gudang.
Investigations by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) showed that most accidents occurred due to employers’ failure to apply and implement safe systems of work in confined spaces.
Lack of coordination and control while conducting activities in such confined spaces pose immense danger to the workers. It is dangerous if, for instance, maintenance of a highly flammable pipe system is done simulwithout coordination or control.
Apart from that, sub-contractors who have no knowledge of working in confined spaces, risk their lives much more than the others. They are usually not equipped with proper tools and do not know or have safe operating procedures.
Statistics show that most accidents occur in silo, hopper, pressurised vessels or tanks and trenches. The victims either die of toxic poisoning or suffocation due to lack of oxygen.
The Code of Practice for Confined Space Safety was introduced in 2001 to ensure employers provide adequate safety to their employees when they work in confined spaces.
It provides detailed explanation on safety measures such as the training involved, rescue procedures, contractors’ responsibility and the control measures.
Accidents can be avoided if employers are committed to implementing the code. I would like to call upon every employer to use it as a guide to create a safer working condition while implementing a healthier work system — in line with OSHA 1994.
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) has been conducting training to employees who work in confined spaces to help minimise accidents and tragedies.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE,