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Buried alive

One worker dies, but another trapped with him survives incident in silo. -TNP
David Sun and Eunice Toh

Wed, May 01, 2013
The New Paper

SINGAPORE - It is a dangerous job by most accounts.

Hanging by a rope, the worker is lowered into the silo, which can be 20 to 30 storeys deep and 20m to 30m wide.

The silo stores things like grain and sugar or, as in this case, cement powder.

The worker cleans hardened material off the walls.

Each time he scrapes the material, some of it goes cascading down.

For one Malaysian worker, it proved deadly when a huge chunk of powdery cement collapsed on him, burying him alive.

Last Monday, four workers from GICM Services, an industrial cleaning and maintenance company, were cleaning the inside of a cement silo belonging to G & W Industries, a building and materials provider located at Tuas Crescent.

As they were doing so, a mass of cement powder got dislodged from the wall, burying two of the workers.

The workers were dug out by their co-workers and rushed to the National University Hospital by the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

One of the workers, a Malaysian, died from injuries at about 6pm that day while the other was hospitalised for observation.

According to the directory of the ASEAN Federation of Cement Manufacturers, silos in Singapore have been known to hold up to 60,000 tonnes of cement at one time, which is about the weight of 150 full Boeing 747 airliners.

The directory also revealed that G & W Industries had a production capacity of 300,000 tonnes of cement in 2011.

Mr Philip Teng, 52, a product manager from Anda International, an industrial material handling specialist, said silo cleaning is a dangerous job.

He said: "After some time, cement powder will harden and stick to the side of a silo.

"It is hard enough for you to stand on it and it won't drop. But when you clean it, the pieces will drop all the way down.

"Sometimes, entire pieces from above will collapse and it can fall on and bury a person."

He added that usually, a silo is cleaned only once every five years or so, depending on its size and usage.

Mr David Lye, 50, the general manager of CleanCoat services, a cleaning company, said its company is looking at alternative ways to clean silos, for example, technology which uses sound waves.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said their officers had been on site to investigate the accident.

Said the spokesman: "Preliminary findings show that the worker had been tasked to clean the interior of a cement silo when a mass of cement powder dislodged from the silo wall completely covered the worker."

He added that all silo cleaning work there had been halted and that MOM was investigating the accident.

When contacted by The New Paper, G & W Industries said it did not have any information on the incident and declined further comment.

GICM Services could not be contacted for comment.

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