By Sun Han Chen

The senior volunteer clenches his fist tightly. “Are you able to do this?” he asks Khalil Ibrahim whom we’re interviewing.

“Yes, but very pain,” Ibrahim replies softly, repeatedly rubbing his right forearm, which reveals a long scar where not long ago there had been seven stitches. It was a deep wound, and it has clearly impaired his ability to make a grip.

Khalil Ibrahim was a worker for a demolition company for a year and a half. The accident happened six and half months ago, on 10 October 2016, at 10am, when Ibrahim was performing demolition work at Yishun Northpoint. A pane of glass that that he and a fellow worker was supporting — about 800 x 1200mm — fell on him and shattered. Shards cut into Ibrahim’s arm and blood flowed profusely. His fellow worker went to alert his supervisor, who brought Ibrahim to the site office on the rooftop. The supervisor attempted first aid to stem the bleeding, but was of little use.

Help arrived only four hours later, at 2pm – but it was not an ambulance or any qualified medical professional, just the company van. Throughout the four hours’ wait, Ibrahim had to endure agony so great he could not even eat. “Cannot eat lunch, very blooding, very weak,” he tells us. He was beginning to faint too. ” I senseless,” is how he puts it. When asked why an ambulance was not called, he did not know the reason either.

In those four hours, the safety officer took pictures of the accident scene for the necessary reports. The site manager also arrived at the scene and spoke with Ibrahim’s supervisor. But as far as Ibrahim can recall, they didn’t even speak with him, with the exception of the supervisor. This is in spite of them being Ibrahim’s superiors, with a moral responsibility to extend needed care. Ibrahim himself was also too afraid and weak to ask his manager why he needed to wait such a long time for his injuries to be attended to.

2pm and the van finally took him to a doctor. Not a hospital, but a General Practitioner’s clinic located in Kaki Bukit Industrial Estate, a 30-minute drive away. The doctor there was unable to treat his injury, and recommended that he be sent to Changi General Hospital (CGH) instead. A further detour was made then, to his employer’s office located close to Kaki Bukit Driving School, to get the money to make anticipated payment at the hospital. Ibrahim only reached CGH at 4pm, a full six hours after the incident. At CGH, he had to wait another 2 hours before his injury was attended to. The doctor on duty there cleaned his wound and injected some medicine to relieve his pain, before giving him 15 days of medical leave (MC).

As at the date of the interview, Ibrahim tells us there is still glass embedded inside his arm. Additional tests and treatment are needed. The arm and hand have not regained full functionality.

Still visibly in some pain, Ibrahim is unable to work. In addition to worries about recovery, he now faces financial stress. Ibrahim is his family’s sole breadwinner, but without current income, the family is suffering too.

Prior to his accident, his monthly pay was $700, inclusive of overtime — typically two hours a day. He tells me he spends about $250 living expenses. The rest of the money is remitted to Bangladesh, to support his parents, two brothers and two sisters.

Elaborating on his employment history, Ibrahim mentions that he has been working in Singapore for more than three years, with the first two working with another firm doing reinforcement work. He’s been lucky until the accident, having paid just $7,000 as recruitment cost for his first job — it lasted two full years — and $5,000 for the second job. He has been able to recover the recruitment costs incurred, but now, he is in far more difficult circumstances given that he is no longer drawing a salary now.

Unfortunately, Ibrahim’s case is not unique and TWC2 sees many cases of workers having to suffer delay before they are sent to a doctor for treatment. Nor is Ibrahim unusual for not speaking up about having to endure the agony. Workers seldom speak up out of fear of their superiors. Or, they are simply too badly injured in the immediate aftermath. This is compounded by employers’ indifference, or lack of urgency, towards ensuring their workers get timely medical care.

Delayed treatment can aggravate an injury and potentially threaten workers’ long term recovery, and in turn, their future livelihoods.

Moreover, as this story shows, even when treatment is offered, its adequacy is also questionable. In Ibrahim’s case, he was first brought to the company clinic, which was ill-equipped to handle his injury. Again, this prolonged his agony and may have compromised a quick recovery.