On 26 March 2013, we received an email from Wang Fatt Oil & Gas Construction Pte Ltd (a member of E S Goup Holdings), the former employer of Pastula Venkata Ramana, saying that several statements in our article about his case (link here) were incorrect. The company said in the email that the Ministry of Manpower “have since concluded their investigation and found us diligent in providing all necessary assistance to our ex-injured worker during his employment with our company.”  However, TWC2 has not actually heard from MOM that this truly reflects MOM’s position.

Nevertheless, TWC2 has an internal protocol wherein all claims that an article is untrue are properly re-checked. The protocol requires that the re-verification is done by someone independent of the original writer.

In response to the company’s allegations, this re-interview with Venkata (pictured above) was carried out within the same week by Russell Heng, the president of TWC2. He was assisted by a Telugu-speaker, since the worker is from Andhra Pradesh and his native language is Telugu. This was unlike the first interview by the writer which was conducted in broken English. The re-interview was witnessed by a volunteer at TWC2’s Cuff Road Project.

Below, we lay out the specific statements in our original article that the company took issue with, and the findings from the re-interview.

part1_red The original article said: “In the meantime, a cast was put around his injured left ankle.”

The company claimed: “The injured worker was never on a cast. The doctor in West Point Hospital issued him a grip band and a walker-boot for his injury.”

Our re-interview found that:  On the 14 July visit to Westpoint Hospital (i.e. the day of the accident),  an X-ray was taken of his injured foot. By 6.30 pm the X-ray result was available.  The hospital put his injured foot in a cast. He was also given crutches. When asked specifically was it a grip band and not a cast, Venkata noted that the cast hardened like cement. In his phone camera, Venkata has a photo of his foot in a cast. The cast was replaced with a grip band and walker boot on a  subsequent appointment. Photos of the injured foot are available in both instances.

(TWC2 is not sure why the company thinks it is important to say the foot was “never” in a cast. Perhaps being in a cast signifies the seriousness of the injury?)

part2_red The original article said: “Everything was all right until a 24-inch steel pipe came off broken chain blocks, falling on his leg.”

The company claimed: “The steel pipe did not came off the chain blocks. The injured worker was tasked to scrap off partially of the steel pipe in small pieces however he cut it in a big piece and let it fall on the working scaffold hence resulting the accident.”

Our re-interview found that:  Venkata said he was asked to cut the pipe which he did at one-metre intervals. The supervisor came along and said at this rate, the job would never be done and asked him to cut the pipe at two-metre intervals. A chain block that would normally lift the pipes was not available and the workers were told just to let the pipes fall to the ground. Venkata confirmed several times that it was a steel pipe that fell on his foot.

part3_red The original article said: “Once injured, Venkata immediately informed his boss and supervisor about the injury. As his left ankle grew more and more swollen, it would seem a matter of urgency to send him to the hospital. Yet, the safety officer delayed his exit from the construction site for three full hours until 5 pm.”

The company claimed: “The accident happened in 2pm in 14th Jul 2012 however the injured worker reported the case to his supervisor at 4:45pm during tea break  whereby he was then referred to company’s safety department and then send for medical treatment at West Point Hospital immediately.”

Our re-interview found that: The accident happened on 14 July 2012 at around 11.10 am when Venkata was working on a ship in the yard. A Bangladeshi colleague saw him injured and went to get Srinivas the Location Safety Officer (the person in charge of safety on the ship)  immediately. Srinivas informed the Company Safety Officer Prashanth but he did not come to the scene. Meanwhile, Srinivas wrapped Venkata’s injured foot with a piece of wet cloth. Four other workers – 2 Indian and 2 Bangladeshis – witnessed this.

Lunch time came and Venkata got off the ship to have his meal. During the lunch break,the injured foot became too swollen and he was in pain. So he did not go back to the ship and stayed at the worksite office. This was around 1 pm. Srinivas left the office to return to work on the ship. Prashanth was in the office at that time.  Venkata’s “boss” was at a meeting and joined them in the office at about 2 pm. From Venkata’s description, this person whom he called “boss” seemed like a senior person in the company. He could speak both Malay and Mandarin. Venkata was not sure of his name. He said it sounded like “Ah Meng” or “Amin”.

At about 4.30 pm Venkata was finally taken to Westpoint Hospital in a company lorry accompanied by another Safety Officer who is from Myanmar.

part4_red The original article said that: “At last, Venkata was sent to a small clinic in Jurong. Instead of performing the necessary X-ray tests (or referring him to a hospital with X-ray facilities) for broken bones, the doctor simply gave him a bandage, some painkillers.”

The company claimed that: “Injured worker was send to West Point Hospital and an X-ray was performed on his injured ankle on the same day at about 5:50pm.”

The re-interview found that this part of our original article was confused. There were many visits to Westpoint Hospital, but no visit to a different “small clinic”. Venkata could have been trying to tell our original writer (in broken English) that he was at different departments of the hospital on the subsequent visits. More crucially, the original article confused the order of visits. What it described as the first visit to the “small clinic” was probably the third visit to Westpoint, as explained below.

In the re-interview, Venkata clarified that at the first visit (to Westpoint) he was given an X-ray and a cast. He said the doctor  — the doctor was Chinese , Venkata did not know his name — told him he was to be given three months’ medical leave (MC) and that he should not walk unnecessarily. The Myanmar Safety Officer then called the company to report that a three-month MC was being issued. Prashanth then turned up at the hospital. Venkata heard Prashanth asking the doctor to issue a two-day MC saying he (Prashanth) would look after Venkata for the rest of the time. The doctor seemed reluctant. Venkata was given tablets. When Venkata asked Prashanth how many days MC was given, Prashanth said, “two days”. Venkata was not shown the MC. Then he was sent back to his dormitory.

He stayed in the dormitory for the next fifteen days during this time, his foot lost all sensation. He called Prashanth several times but the latter never came. Venkata’s friends then told him about another safety officer called Ramasamy in the Sembawang yard (of the same company) who Venkata thought to be more senior than Prashanth.

Venkata called Ramasamy and told him the whole story. Within ten minutes a lorry came and took him to Westpoint Hospital but he saw another doctor this time. Different medication was prescribed because the first medication was making him very drowsy. The hospital did not take off the cast.

The hospital gave him another appointment for twenty days later.  No MC was issued. Venkata asked the doctor why no MC issued and the doctor said he would talk to the Safety Officer about light duties.

Twenty days after that second visit to Westpoint Hospital, his “boss” who was probably travelling and had just got back called and asked why was he was not at work. Venkata told him what had happened. Then Prashanth came and took him to Westpoint Hospital and asked Venkata why he had talked to the “boss”. The hospital appointment was at 10.30 am.

For this third hospital visit (some 35 days after the accident on 14 July 2012 which would take the date to past mid-August), the cast came off but the doctor said the bones were still not properly joined and gave him a kind of footwear supported by a foot grip. He was also given MC for two days. The possibility of an operation was discussed.

We suspect that the mention of “bandage” in the original article likely referred to the foot grip given to him at this third visit, and thus now believe that the original article confused the third visit with the first.

After that (third) visit to Westpoint Hospital with Venkata, Prasanth left town to go back to India for a period. During Prashanth’s absence, it was the Myanmar Safety Officer who tended to Venkata.  Venkata’s foot remained swollen even with the foot grip and he could not walk. After two days he called the Myanmar Safety Officer and they went back to Westpoint Hospital and got another two-day MC. He estimated that over the next twenty days or so, he went back to Westpoint Hospital five to six times with the Myanmar Safety Officer. Each time he would get a two-day certificate. Venkata knew the certificates were for two days because the Myanmar Safety Officer showed them to him. However Venkata could not tell whether they were for total rest (MC) or light duties.

part5_red The original article said: “The doctor suggested an operation, but Venkata, perhaps fearful, refused it.”

The company claimed: “According to our safety co-ordinator whom accompanied the injured worker, the doctor did not suggest any operation.”

Our re-interview found that: At the third visit to Westpoint, Venkata said the doctor did say that if the bones continued not to be properly joined and got worse, an operation might be necessary. He was initially scared but finally said if he had to have an operation he would. The doctor said it was not time to decide yet and the situation would be monitored.

(Again, TWC2 is not sure why it seemed important to the company to deny that an operation might be needed. Perhaps again, it testified to the seriousness of the injury?)

part6_red The original article wrote: “His boss was clearly not happy about this, reports Venkata. “Boss said, ‘Why hospital again? I already sent you to West Point. You want to go outside, you pay yourself.’” ”

The company claimed that: “His medical bill at NUH was reimbursed to him.”

We note that the company does not dispute Venkata’s report that the boss said those words to him.  However, at the re-interview, Venkata clarified that after he had hired a lawyer, the lawyer wrote to the company about the NUH bill and the company sent an officer with a cheque of $170 to hand over to Venkata at MOM.

The company wrote: “In summary, our company did our best to render all necessary medical assistance to the injured worker and the case was reported to MOM via I-report on 17th Jul 2012. All his medical leave and light duties monies were reimburse back to him.”

TWC2 does not agree with this assessment of the company’s performance. In our email reply to the company, we told them:

The main point of the article is about the delay in sending him to hospital on the day of the accident. On this TWC2 does not think our article has been wrong. When we rechecked that afternoon’s sequence of events with Venkata, his description has details of who attended to him and at what time.

In the course of our re-interview, Venkata also explained what led to his choosing to go to the National University Hospital (NUH). He told us that when Prashanth returned from India, Prashanth called and asked Venkata why he hadn’t turned up at the office for light duty. He said Venkata had to report for work but could sit in the office. Prashanth insisted that if he did not show up in the office, he would be repatriated within two days. Although Venkata still had more appointments with Westpoint, Prashanth said there would be no more hospital appointments for him. Under the circumstances, Venkata decided to go to NUH.

When he went back to his company dormitory from NUH, his friend called him on the phone and said “Hey I heard you went to see outside doctor”. Then Prashanth came to the dormitory and wanted to know why he was consulting an outside doctor when the company was already providing treatment at Westpoint Hospital. Venkata retorted that it was because Prashanth threatened to send him back to India. Prashanth then said, “OK we will send you back in two days” or words to that effect. It was then about 4 pm to 4.30 pm and nobody else was in the dormitory. The others were not yet back from work.

Afraid of being sent back before his leg had healed, Venkata left the dormitory the next day and went in search of a lawyer.

The company asked that TWC2 “remove the blog page as there are too many discrepancy and untruthfulness on the actual case.”

Except for a few minor technical errors mentioned above, TWC2 stands by the original story.

On 4 April 2013, we wrote to the company (cc: MOM) with our findings from the re-verification exercise. We also offered to let the company post its version of events on this site.  We haven’t heard from the company since.