Fatal lab blast blew workers off their chairs

Fatal lab blast blew workers off their chairs
PHOTO: The Straits Times

An explosion at a Jurong industrial gas supply firm in October last year was so powerful that it blew two workers off their chairs and caused part of the ceiling to collapse, a coroner's court heard yesterday.

Madam Lim Siaw Chian, a 30-year-old chemist at Leeden National Oxygen, died in the ensuing blaze amid further explosions.

At the time, she had just returned to work from maternity leave.

Seven employees were reportedly hurt in the fire which engulfed the ground-floor laboratory at the firm in Tanjong Kling Road.

Madam Lim's charred remains were found on six occasions, over a two-month period, and were identified via her infant daughter's DNA, the court heard on the first day of the inquiry into Madam Lim's death.

Police investigator Mohammad Amin Majid told the court that investigations by the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Ministry of Manpower into the cause of the blaze have yet to be completed.

State Coroner Marvin Bay adjourned the hearing to April 15.

The inquiry heard that Madam Lim, who was also known as Krysten, was working at Leeden's Specialty Gas Centre Quality Control Laboratory when the fire broke out on Oct 12 last year.

Work in the 35 sq m lab includes testing and analysing gases.

Leeden is involved in the storage, mixing and bottling of industrial gases such as hydrogen, helium, nitrogen and argon, for supply to shipyards and industrial firms.

At about 9.20am, a worker who was in the lab saw a flash of fire, heard an explosion and saw the ceiling collapse. He ran out of the room immediately.

Two other workers fell off their chairs because of the blast.

They shouted for Madam Lim, but did not get any response.

They were also forced to flee the room.

Further explosions were heard, and a blaze engulfed the lab.

Another worker, who had earlier left the lab, tried to return to look for Madam Lim, but was urged by the company's emergency response team not to re-enter the premises.

The team managed to contain the fire until firefighters arrived.

About 10 workers used hoses, fire hydrants and extinguishers to prevent the blaze from spreading. They also activated the carbon dioxide suppression system.

About 150 workers were evacuated from the 1.6ha facility.

The wake for Madam Lim, who had received Singapore citizenship just a month before she died, was held in Skudai, Johor.

Her husband, brother and aunt attended the inquiry yesterday, as did representatives from Leeden.

Outside the courtroom, Madam Lim's husband Ooi Peng Fung told reporters: "It has been very hard; we are still coping with the loss. We just want to find out what happened."

This article was first published on March 29, 2016.
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