Diver's death a wake-up call, say industry veterans

Diver's death a wake-up call, say industry veterans
Attendants conducting an equipment safety check for the diver (seated) during an outing. Some commercial divers say costs seem to be a key factor when contractors consider safety issues.

The death of 36-year-old Kwok Khee Khoon during a commercial diving operation off Singapore's waters on Wednesday was an important wake-up call for the industry, said veteran contractors.

They say that while safety for the industry is regulated under the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act, commercial diving outfits still need to play their part to ensure that the rules, including in-house safety guidelines, are observed on the job.

Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statistics show that there have been three commercial diving-related fatalities here since 2010.

This does not include the incident that claimed Mr Kwok's life and other fatalities that may have happened so far this year.

The ministry had said on Thursday that he was "sucked into a space in the hull of the vessel" while taking photographs underwater of welding work on a container ship anchored near Marina South Pier.

This was the second fatality involving Mr Kwok's employer, Underwater Contractors. The company reportedly lost a diver at sea six years ago.

Industry veterans such as Commercial Diving Association (Singapore) chairman Abdul Malik yesterday said diving accidents usually occur when contractors cut corners while trying to cut costs.

"What they fail to realise is that, if they do not follow safety procedures in the technical advisory or adhere to the code, they can be charged in court," said Mr Malik, 36.

Anyone who does not meet the requirements under the WSH Act and its subsidiary legislation may be charged by the MOM.

Convicted companies face a maximum fine of $500,000, while individuals may be fined up to $200,000 and/or jailed for up to 24 months.

The MOM said there are programmes and assistance schemes to help commercial diving companies with safety issues. These include the WSH Assist scheme and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency's Skills Development Fund.

The commercial diving industry also has a Code of Practice for Diving at Work and the Technical Advisory for Inland/Inshore Commercial Diving Safety and Health, which companies can refer to when implementing safety plans.

Safety measures during diving operations include having an umbilical wire that divers can tug on in case of emergencies, proper communication equipment for divers and their supervisors, and protective headgear.

Some commercial divers say costs seem to be a key factor when contractors consider safety issues. Safety equipment, for instance, can be quite costly.

"Companies can bid at a lower price if they cut corners, while those who follow procedures might not be able to cover their costs if they have to cough out more money for safety equipment and other measures," said one diver who has been at his job for two years and asked not to be named.

Mr Malik hopes more companies and divers will join his association to advocate greater control of safety procedures.

awcw@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 7, 2014.
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