Monday, February 14, 2011

Safety Certified But Not Satisfied

Safety Certified But Not Satisfied

5 tonnes of crushing steel
When Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Teo Chee Hean responded to parliament members who questioned the SAF's safety measures after recent incidents involving reversing army vehicles, Teo didn't exactly provide a wealth of details so that future NSmen can learn from the mishaps and know when to duck. As in avoiding the killer machines, not embarrassing questions.

All DPM Teo would enlighten the house was that the army's Safety System was certified in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS). A system that allows for a Motor Transport Officer to be run over by a Land Rover (July 2009) and then a Lance Corporal to be rear ended by a truck (January 2011). In both accidents only two men were present at the stationary vehicles. Dead men do not provide eye-witness testimony.

What the parliamentarians heard was that the army truck reversed into Lance Corporal Eugin Wee Yong Choon, a Signal Operator who was somehow tasked to unload stores from the back of a military transport. And they were satisfied with that minimalist report. The parliamentarians never bothered to quiz Teo what stores were being delivered that necessitated the requisition of a 5-tonne military vehicle. Assuming the item was larger and heavier than a six-pack of Heinekens, why didn't the driver lend a hand to LCP Wee in the manual discharge of the cargo? The tailgate is a hefty piece of heavy metal. If the army's safety procedures were fundamentally sound as Teo claimed, why didn't the driver switch off the engine and engage the manual brakes before allowing Wee to alight for the unloading operation? Since Second Lieutenant (2LT) Chan was also crushed by a standing vehicle that was supposed to be securely parked, one wonders if the OHSAS covers this aspect of safety. Unlike the downing of the Apache helicopter due to a missing instruction in the maintenance manual, the loss of innocent lives in two similar occurrences apparently did not faze Teo sufficiently to warrant a re-write of the Standard Operation Procedures.

The only logical conclusion to make out of Teo's lackadaisical attitude to the human tragedy is that another round of musical chairs will be played out after the elections. Let the next Defence Minister deal with the crap. The safety lesson here seems to be - 官官相护 (guān guān xiāng hù) - bureaucrats shield each other.

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