'Uncanny coincidences' led to workers' death

A fatal accident at an HDB worksite, in which a worker died after being hit by a falling steel bar, was the result of a series of "uncanny coincidences", said a district court yesterday as it took a construction firm to task for the incident.

In the first place, for example, Mr Ammaiappan Vijayendran and two colleagues should not have been carrying out drainage installation works on the ground floor of a block of flats under construction at the time, the court heard.

This was the only stretch of the block's perimeter unprotected from falling objects by overhead shelters, as Wee Hur Construction, the main contractor of the eight-block project, had run out of material to extend the area covered by the protective shelters.

It ordered its sub-contractor, which had in turn sub-contracted the drainage works to the Indian national's employer, to stop work in the meantime.

At the same time, workers on the eighth floor carrying out structural works did not secure the steel bar when using it as a tool. Neither did their employer, another sub-contractor, place a safety net underneath or inform Wee Hur of the works.

All these meant that when the bar slipped from worker Mintu Anil Sarker's hand on Sept 14, 2012, it plummeted through an unsheltered 2.96m gap and onto Mr Ammaiappan's head, fracturing his skull and leading to his death from brain injuries in hospital two hours later. Another worker was injured after the bar bounced onto him.

Mintu was fined $1,000 for his role in the accident while his employer, sub-contractor Chian Teck Realty, got a $50,000 fine.

Yesterday, Wee Hur, the occupier of the Yishun worksite at the time, was fined $40,000 after pleading guilty to failing to install a shelter that could have saved Mr Ammaiappan's life.

"There were several really uncanny coincidences of facts," said District Judge Low Wee Ping.

In mitigation, Wee Hur's lawyer Yusfiyanto Yatiman urged the court to impose less than $40,000 in fines, saying it had taken "significant and pro-active" steps to prevent the incident.

These included ordering that no works be carried out on the ground floor until overhead shelter coverage was complete. He said Mintu and Chian Teck had played the key role in the tragedy.

"Their major operational lapse directly contributed to the incident, and is distinct from our client's significantly minor lapse as occupier of the site," he said.

As occupier of the worksite, Wee Hur could have been fined up to $500,000 for failing to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of people on the premises.


This article was published on May 3 in The Straits Times.

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