by Lawrence Chong
There are times in a person’s life where things happen beyond their control, and not even faithful Christians can predict or prevent them. The problems in life can present us with many lessons, teaching us that life is short, and that abiding by God’s will is most important. I learnt this from an incident that occurred at my first job many years ago, at a rubber products industry. I recall it vividly even until today, as if it had only just happened.
It was a normal working day for me. I met up with my managing director and chairman at 2pm, to discuss factory welfare. At about 4pm, we broke off for a break at a nearby coffee shop. On our way back, we heard the sounds of an explosion, followed by a cloud of smoke from the rear end of our factory. We saw a lot of people, rushing around in a worried, chaotic manner. One of the workers was asking for our company van, and upon obtaining one, drove into the area where the explosion had occurred.
That same worker soon drove out with four workers, whose bodies and faces were blackened from the explosion. I realised that they were the victims of the incident, and they were all rushed to the hospital as soon as possible. The policemen and fire department arrived to break up any crowds, clear the area and perform investigations.
I was asked to stay at the factory to help calm the situation down, while my superiors travelled to Klang General Hospital, where the victims were taken. After more than an hour, it turned out that the doctors at Klang were unable to handle such a serious case of first degree burns on the patients, and they were sent to the burn unit of University Hospital (UH) in PJ. The four victims were a Production Manager, aged 22, a Production Supervisor in his fifties, a 55-year-old retired gardener and a contractor, from Ipoh, in his late fifties.
So many people back at the factory were in a state of shock, and many refused to take up the night shifts as well. The wife of the Production Manager asked how and why this could have happened, and I was unable to answer her, as investigations were still happening. She took incense to burn for her prayers at the site of the accident, praying that everything would be alright. I realised, watching her, that at such desperate situations, people are willing to pray to their gods for divine help.
I went to the UH the next morning, where we were only allowed to view the patients from outside the burn unit, through a glass screen. Within 24 hours of the explosion, the production supervisor had passed on from his injuries. I went on to help his family arrange a traditional Chinese funeral service and burial for him.
Investigations revealed that in the factory area of the explosion, there was a rubber dust storage tank, where a buffing machine would vacuum and deliver the rubber dust into the dust tank. The rubber dust inside the highly pressurised storage tank contained carbon and sulphur, which made it a highly potential flammable substance. The sanding belt on the machine had overheated, and created a spark that alighted the molten state of black rubber dust inside, causing the explosion. The explosion was so great that a metal door was shot from the machine and wedged into the factory door.
Answering to several government departments was a difficult task, as was explaining the cause of the tragedy to the families of the deceased. It was an unexpected freak accident, and no one could have seen it happening. Everyone at the factory was also very emotional, or in shock. My eyelids were drooping so often from the sheer exhaustion, as I also had to travel back and forth between the hospital and the factory to handle matters.
The gardener woke up at one point, and it was comforting to see him wave to me from behind the window of the emergency burn unit. However, he also passed on several days after the incident, due to a sudden heart attack. I had to help his family arrange a traditional Indian funeral as well. On the sixth day, the death of the contractor from Ipoh followed. His casket was sent back to his home in Ipoh for his burial and funeral. The sole survivor of the explosion was the Production Manager, and it took him two months before he could be discharged.
This incident remains one of the most tragic times of my life. Within a week, I had to come to terms with the deaths of three colleagues from the factory I worked in. I was responsible not only for handling their respective funerals, but also the general welfare of the other shaken workers and reports to various authorities. All through that, the constant questioning as to why such a thing could happen went through my head.
Many years has passed since then, and while I have never forgotten the incident, I realised we can only learn from it instead of dwell on the sadness. From there, I learnt to focus on the importance of health and safety, and it has become something that I carried with me to my current job, being assigned as an advisor to the Health and Safety Committee.
We need to focus on our faith and our soul, and the things above which are more important than what this world can offer us. In the Bible, Job is a worthy example of a man who was afflicted with every imaginable form of suffering, from physical pain to the deaths of his loved ones. Yet, through it all, he kept himself faithful to God and never cursed Him. “…Shall we indeed accept good from God, and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10)
We need to be aware that life is uncertain, and short. In James 4:13-15, it reads: 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
We read about what the newspapers and media tell us, but we also must always prepare for such eventualities. No one is exempted from the challenges and trials of the world, and no one can know what the future holds. We must instead follow Job, by placing our trust in the Lord, who allows what happens for reasons beyond our own understanding and wisdom.