SMRT CEO, Desmond Kueh said “The safety of our people has always been the utmost priority..”. But at the same time SMRT was quoted saying it is their “priority to deliver a high level of reliability” in its train network.
What then is SMRT top priority? Safety of its staff or service reliability?
Likely it is service reliability over staff safety as the CEO himself said that to have a team of staff walking along the 0.5m wide maintenance track while the train is in operation is “standard…It is a routine activity”. By treating high hazard work as ‘routine’, the head of SMRT has trivialized the importance of safety.
It is also reported that an average of 2 to 3 authorizations are given daily for maintenance staff to access the track while the trains are running. It seems like SMRT is tempting accident to happen.
With the narrow maintenance walkway and running train, one would have thought that having a team of staff on the track would be the exceptional rather than it being standard and routine activity.
If staff need to risk their lives on daily basis, then there is something very wrong with the reliability of the signaling condition monitoring devices, one of which the team was trying to access when the accident happened.
To say that the accident is due to the train entering the affected area because of failure in co-ordination between the team and the station staff is just scratching the surface. There were 15 staff on the track when the accident happened. Has SMRT heard of the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” ? It is a high hazard working condition, the number of staff should be kept to minimum, not forgetting the walkway is only 0.5m wide!
Could the large number of staff that resulted in co-ordination problem? The supervisor, assistant engineer and engineer each thought that the other had contacted the station to stop the train?
The deeper problem could be SMRT company safety culture which can affect the quality and standard of the operation safety procedures and staff compliance to them. For high risk/hazard work, the basic requirements are the use of operation checklist and maintenance of communication (eg via walkie-talkie) between the maintenance team and station control. Were these basic requirements in place? If so, did the team adhere to safety protocol?
However, the most uncomfortable possibility is that the team took unnecessary risk to minimize train service disruption due to pressure from the top.