Elderly cleaner's fatal fall a misadventure

He was 70 and suffered from several chronic ailments, but he believed in working hard.

Since 2008, cleaner Lai Seow Wah had worked at Singapore Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng, a columbarium in Bishan Lane.

On July 1, he climbed a ladder to clean some glass panels and refused to step down even when told to do so.

The next time his supervisor saw him, he was sprawled on the ground, injured. He died the next day, a coroner's court heard.

The inquest into Mr Lai's death heard that he was standing on a 1.8m A-frame ladder, cleaning the glass panels covering rows of ancestral tablets, when his supervisor told him to step down.

Some 5½ hours later, cleaning supervisor Lee Thim Tat was disposing of rubbish when he found Mr Lai lying face up on top of the fallen ladder.

The cleaner was conscious but could not speak and tried to sit up. He vomited once before the ambulance arrived and died the next day from a head injury.

Yesterday, State Coroner Marvin Bay said Mr Lai had not been specifically instructed to clean the glass panels as he was "old and walks with a limp". But he had insisted many times on doing it despite being advised otherwise.

The temple's operations manager, Mr Liu Khee Fang, had been especially concerned because Mr Lai would anchor one leg against the glass surface and stand with only one leg on the ladder.

The coroner said although no one witnessed the fall, it appeared to be inadvertent.

He said Mr Lai had suffered from multiple chronic conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia, and had undergone cataract and knee replacement operations. He also had an ankle fracture in 2010.

"Given this, Mr Lai's demise is a truly unfortunate misadventure.

"His sad demise underscores the importance of adopting safe work practices when working from height," he said.

A person who fails to keep at least three points of support on an A-frame ladder risks losing stability during movement and falling off. At least three points - two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand - should be on the ladder at all times.

The coroner advised persons with compromised balance or infirmities not to undertake such work unsupervised or without help.

elena@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on December 20, 2016.
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