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The blowtorch that was felt around the island

Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 06:00

[SINGAPORE] One man with an unauthorised blowtorch caused the fire at SingTel's Bukit Panjang exchange last month, knocking out services for banks, telcos and other major businesses across Singapore.

The employee had used the blowtorch while doing maintenance work on a pipe containing cables at the exchange, according to SingTel's preliminary findings that were released yesterday.

A fire then started at the pipe, ultimately damaging 149 fibre optic cables and disrupting services for tens of thousands of customers. Over the following weeks, the fire triggered rounds of investigation, regulatory involvement and a war of words between operators.

"Our investigations showed that the fire was caused by an employee not following strict maintenance procedures, including the use of an unauthorised blowtorch," SingTel said. BT understands that the blowtorch in question had not been approved for use. The telco did not say where the tool came from.

The employee has since been suspended, pending the independent review by the SingTel board committee of inquiry, which is ongoing.

"SingTel treats this incident very seriously and has always ensured that its contingency plans and safety measures meet global benchmarks," it said yesterday.

Since the fire, the telco has taken steps to prevent a repeat of the incident, it said. It will limit maintenance work that requires the application of heat, introduce better tools and equipment, and reinforce training on safety requirements and operations.

"We recognise the importance of reliable communication services to customers and Singapore's status as a leading financial and business hub," said SingTel group CEO Chua Sock Koong.

"We apologise unreservedly to all our customers for any inconvenience caused. We are committed to learning from this experience and welcome recommendations from the (committee of inquiry) and independent experts to enhance our operations."

The next round of information from the telco about the fire will come in the form of findings and recommendations from the committee of inquiry, which will be made public.

Yesterday, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) responded to SingTel's announcement, saying that it noted the telco's findings, was conducting its own investigation and will make its own findings known in "due course".

SingTel's counter closed four cents, or one per cent, higher at $3.80 yesterday, before its preliminary findings for the fire were released.