Malaysia: 1 dead, 1 injured in coal mill fire, unions seek probe

The BWI Malaysian Liaison Council (BWI-MLC) called for a thorough investigation of a fire at a coal mill in Kanthan, Chemor, Perak on 14 October that has led to the death of one migrant worker and serious injury of another. 

The BWI-MLC said that the company and its officials must be held responsible for the tragic accident. It pointed to serious lapses on the part of the supervisors on the ground, and lack of standard occupational health and safety guidelines. 

Based on its initial probe, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health in Perak (JKKP) confirmed that the two victims were migrant workers from India and Bangladesh. They were reportedly tasked to clear the coal dust debris that formed at the coal pulverised bin section of the plant by using metal shovels when the fire started. 

The BWI-MLC opined that the use of metal shovels may have caused unnecessary friction, which led to the spontaneous combustion of the debris. It said that the choice of tools to clear the coal dust was ill-advised due to the combustible nature of the debris. 

The BWI-MLC also questioned the amount of coal dust debris in the bin section. It said that if the debris in the area was cleared on a regular basis, it would have prevented the unnecessary build-up of dangerous coal dust residue. It also observed that the victims were not wearing any heat or fire-resistant personal protective equipment (PPE) which could have reduced injuries and even prevented the loss of life. 

The JKKP’s preliminary investigation on the incident was poorly received by the BWI-MLC. It lamented that the department’s initial report failed to talk about the repatriation details of the victim migrant workers, the possibility of compensation, coordination with the High Commission of India and Bangladesh in Malaysia and official communication to the families of the victims.   

The BWI-MLC challenged the JKKP to expand and complete its investigation by looking into the following:

  • The company’s existing standard operating procedures in relation to clearing coal dust debris
  • The quality of supervision existing at the workplace 
  • PPEs provided to workers
  • Workers’ trainings, if any, on handling highly-combustible materials such as coal.

The BWI-MLC also urged the JKKP to disclose the name of the company, along with the identities of its high officials, that managed the coal mill in the spirit of truth and accountability.  

It also called for the passage of stricter laws to ensure the highest standards of occupational health and safety. BWI-MLC explained that under the country’s existing laws, violations of OHS standards that lead to work-related deaths carry only a fine of RM 20,000 (USD 4,800) and a two-year jail term. 

The Malaysian trade unions also reiterated BWI’s global call to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to recognise occupational health and safety as a fundamental right of all workers.  

The BWI-MLC is made up of 9 Malaysian trade unions, namely the Cement Industry Employees Union (CIEU), the Malayan Technical Services Union (MTSU), the Malay Forest Officers Union (MFOU), the PKNS Employees Union (PKNS), the Sabah Timber Industry Employees Union (STIEU), the Timber Employees Union of Peninsula Malaysia (TEUPM), the Timber Industry Employees Union of Sarawak (TIEUS), the Union of Employees in the Construction Industry (UECI) and the Union of Forestry Employees of Sarawak (UFES).