HIGHER CALLING

Singapore works – but making sure this simple
statement holds true is a range of committed officers
from across the Public Service. Among them is
Mr Bok Chee Meng, an engineer with the
Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

The call came one Sunday afternoon in August 2014 while Mr Bok was in his kitchen, busy with household chores.

A cabin under installation on Sentosa’s 860-metre-long intra-island cableway had been dislodged, the caller said, and had fallen 30 metres to the ground. Mr Bok remained calm as he rushed to the scene. When he arrived, the cabin appeared smashed. Thankfully, no one was in it. Meanwhile, a worker was trapped in another suspended cabin.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team was on-site to rescue the worker, but it needed Mr Bok’s knowledge of the cableway system to work out a method of rescue that would minimise the risk to all parties. There were two choices, recalls Mr Bok. “Move the cabin to safety, or have the SCDF rescuers approach the trapped worker by attaching themselves to the cable lines or using reach equipment.”

The pressure was on to assess the situation as quickly as possible and arrive at the right decision. “I consulted with the other rescuers, evaluated the equipment’s mechanisms and determined the cause of the first cabin’s fall,” says Mr Bok. “After considering the risk factors and time constraints, we decided that the safest option was to move the cabin to the nearest station at a slow speed.”

The roads running underneath the cableway were cleared of traffic and the equipment rechecked for integrity before the cabin was slowly moved. After an hour, the cabin landed gently at Imbiah Station, and the trapped man emerged unscathed.

In the past, Mr Bok rarely thought about how engineering could save lives. Now, it’s all in a day’s work for him. At 62, he’s a Principal Engineer with BCA’s Amusement Rides Safety Department. In contrast to the thrilling rides he looks after, Mr Bok has a cautious personality. “The only risk I ever take is driving on the roads at 90km/h!” he says.

Besides investigating amusement-ride-related incidents, BCA engineers vigilantly inspect their design, installation, operations and maintenance to ensure that they are safe.

These rides run the gamut from roller coasters and Ferris wheels to water slides, zip lines, indoor skydiving facilities and cable skis. “It’s a job that’s mentally stimulating,” says Mr Bok. “The rides may be a simple pleasure for the public, but there are many serious engineering systems behind them that we have to make sure are up to standard.”

Before new rides are installed and operated, BCA checks that their designs comply with acceptable standards. Critical areas include the acceleration aspects of the rides, types of safety restraints for users and the structures’ ability to withstand dynamic loads and vibrations. Existing rides are also inspected for quality of maintenance and wear and tear.

Mr Bok cites the tightness of fasteners, the integrity of joints and welds on the structures and the condition of restraints and seats as some of the essential safety criteria on existing rides. “On these rides, people go through twists and turns at high speeds,” he explains. “There are many forces at work on the ride’s structure and on the human body. Hence we need to be vigilant and understand the matters that affect safety when we evaluate and inspect rides. It’s critical to have a trained eye to spot technical abnormalities.”

Mr Bok joined the Amusement Rides Safety Department in 2009, when it was first formed. Before that, he was with BCA and the Public Works Department working on ventilation, air-conditioning, firefighting and water-plumbing systems. “We check the rides either before they’re opened or after they’re closed,” he says. “This means we may be at a site at 7am before opening or after 7pm when the rides are closed for the day.”

Nothing beats the thrill of his daily work. “Not everyone gets to work in places where people are having fun!” says Mr Bok.“Seeing the public enjoying the rides – safely, of course – gives me great satisfaction.”