$200k compensation for worker who sued contractor and sub-contractor

SINGAPORE - He had come to Singapore from China more than seven years ago hoping to give his wife, two teenage children and elderly parents a better life.

The Henan province native was doing well, drawing a monthly income of about $3,000 as a construction worker.

But an industrial accident three years ago meant Mr Cao Zhi Jiang, 44, can no longer earn a living as a construction worker, or by doing any other work that requires physical exertion.

Mr Cao took two of the sub-contractors in charge of the worksite to court for his injuries and loss of earnings as a result.

On Thursday , the last day of the three-day hearing, the lawsuit involving him and sub-contractors AVA Global and Ou Yaxiang, from Sing Fu Engineering Works, and main contractor Low Keng Huat was settled out of court with a compensation of $200,000.

10 times more

This is more than 10 times the amount Mr Cao, represented by Mr N. Srinivasan from Hoh Law Corporation, could claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act - $18,000.

Court documents showed that on Nov 25, 2010, Mr Cao was asked to do some repair work on a linkway roof near the then-incomplete Nex shopping mall.

But a fall off a ladder from a height of 2m left him with a head injury so serious that he had to be taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for emergency treatment.

Two days after the fall, Mr Cao had an operation called a decompressive bifrontal craniectomy done at the National Neuroscience Institute, to remove the front part of his skull.

He was then transferred to Ang Mo Kio Hospital for rehabilitation, and discharged on March 5, 2011.

According to an in-house incident report by a workplace safety and health officer with AVA Global, Mr Liew Wei Meng, the ladder that Mr Cao used was "defective".

In the on-site investigation done a day after the incident, Mr Liew found that the ladder brace on one side was "defective", while the brace on the other side of the ladder was missing.

In place of a missing rivet in the ladder was a steel wire.

In his affidavit, Mr Cao said "unsafe practices were apparent". He claimed he was never issued a full body harness, and there was no mobile scaffold, lifeline, guardrail, or buddy system, in which one worker holds the ladder while another is on it.

"My fall would not have occurred or the safety equipment would have either prevented or broken my fall and I would not have sustained such severe injuries," he said in his affidavit.

But, in the sub-contractor AVA Global's defence, safety supervisor Delower Hossain Monsur Ali Howlader said that Mr Cao had missed a step when climbing down the ladder, thus resulting in his fall.

"On the night of the accident, I recall checking the ladder used and found that it was in good condition," he said.

The sub-contractor also checked with construction worker Mr Ruhul Amin Raja Miah, who witnessed the accident, and found that Mr Cao had detached his safety harness from the lifeline to climb down the ladder. His helmet, though on, was not strapped.

There was no judgment as the matter was settled out of court on Thursday. Mr Cao, who was scheduled to fly back to China early this morning, was very happy with the outcome, said his lawyer.

Although it has been close to three years since the incident, Mr Cao still experiences pain in his head, thighs and back.

His hearing in his left ear is also impaired, and he can walk only slowly with the help of a walking stick.

It is unlikely that he will be able to do any work that requires physical exertion, according to a medical report prepared by private consultant neurosurgeon Alvin Hong.

His head injury has also caused some memory loss.

Mr Cao said he can relate the accident that happened only from "glimpses and images".

The $200,000 he has received in compensation will be used for his two children's studies, as well as his medical fees, he said.

Other industrial accidents

June 2013

Excavator operator Low Chim Lam, 59, died while carrying out demolition works at Novena Ville in Thomson Road, when the first-storey floor slab gave way.

The machine toppled and Mr Low's body was trapped under concrete and debris.

March 2013

A Bangladeshi worker died in an accident at Changi Airport that left two others, both Indian nationals, injured.

One of the workers was using a spanner to detach a drill pipe when the pipe started spinning at high speed. He lost control of the spanner, which flew off and hit the men, who could not dodge it in time.

February 2013

After an explosion at Banyan Avenue on Jurong Island, materials engineer Dharmalingam Selvam, 31, a Singaporean permanent resident, fell to his death from a work platform, believed to be about 2m high.

It is unclear if he was flung off the platform due to the impact of the explosion or if he lost his balance.

The other four men present - two Indian nationals, a Bangladeshi and an Indonesian - had minor injuries and ear discomfort.

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