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Sole proprietor charged S$140k over fatal incident: Highest WSH fine thus far

On 2 September 2019, Ong Chin Chong, the sole proprietor of Hiap Seng Lorry Enterprises, was fined S$140,000 under Singapore's Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act for a fatal incident resulting from unsafe lifting operations.

Per the Ministry of Manpower, this is the highest fine thus far imposed on an individual prosecuted under the WSH Act. The maximum sentence is $200,000 fine, or up to two years’ imprisonment, or both.

Case summary 

The case goes back to when Ong was contracted by transportation company Unipac Transport Service to deliver materials to a manufacturer of precast concrete products, Sunway Concrete Products (S) at its premises in Tampines.

On 26 April 2016, Ong, together with two of his workers, Venugopal Sarath Kumar (the deceased) and Dhatchinamoorthy Karthik, were unloading a bundle of wire mesh from Hiap Seng’s lorry using the vehicle’s hydraulic crane arm.

Ong operated the lorry crane and supervised the operation, while the workers were tasked to rig and align the bundle of wire mesh during lifting.

The bundle of wire mesh slanted while in transit, prompting Karthik and the deceased to align the bundle with their bare hands when it suddenly dislodged from the lifting chain.

The bundle, which weighed approximately 1.57 tonne and measured about 5.9m in length and 1.35m in width, struck the deceased. He was pronounced dead at the scene by attending paramedics.

MOM’s investigation findings

Investigations by the Ministry revealed that Ong failed to ensure that the lifting chain was in good condition abefore instructing his workers to use it for the lifting operation. The two-legged lifting chain had a hook on one leg and a shackle that was barely secured by a steel wire on the other leg.

Ong also did not ensure that his workers were trained to perform lifting operations. Both the deceased and Karthik had neither attended courses on safe lifting operations nor were briefed on proper rigging or lifting methods. Despite this, they were tasked to rig loads and assist during delivery of materials.

In addition, Ong failed to appoint a lifting supervisor, rigger and signalman for the lifting and rigging activities and implement a lifting plan for safe lifting operations, which are requirements under the Workplace Safety and Health (Operation of Cranes) Regulations 2011.

As the employer, Ong failed to conduct a specific risk assessment for lifting operations to identify foreseeable hazards and establish control measures to reduce the risks the workers were exposed to.

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Sebastian Tan, MOM’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate said, "Tragic accidents such as this can be averted if we all play our part in managing the hazards associated with high risk operations such as lifting."

In connection with the same incident, Unipac was fined S$60,000 for failing to ensure that its contractor had conducted an adequate risk assessment for the delivery of materials and developed appropriate control measures.

Sunway was also fined S$160,000 for failing to ensure that the lifting works carried by external parties at its premises had followed a set of procedures, and that the lifting chain used by Hiap Seng was certified by an authorised examiner.

Image / Ministry of Manpower

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