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Supervisor jailed 9 weeks for accident that led worker to be permanently-disabled

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In a workplace safety and health (WSH) incident, Ava Global has been fined S$210,000 for committing breaches under the WSH Act in Singapore, that resulted in a workplace accident on 14 September 2016, leaving one one of its workers permanently-disabled.

The construction foreman involved in the incident, Sarkar Mithun, was sentenced to nine weeks’ imprisonment for his negligent act under the WSHA.

Background of incident

Ava Global was sub-contracted by Ken-Pal (S) to carry out façade-related works on a building belonging to National University of Singapore.

Thus, Ava Global appointed Sarkar as a foreman to supervise the installation of tubular ceiling panels within the premises but did not give Sarkar any installation instructions. Sarkar decided on the method of installation himself, based on his observations on how it was done previously by a different company.

On 14 September 2016, under Sarkar’s supervision, a worker, Miah Jobayed went up to the ceiling level using a boom lift. He then climbed above the ceiling panel level and stood on a steel structure without any fall protection equipment. The boom lift was subsequently used by Sarkar and another worker to bring a panel up to the ceiling level.

As Sarkar and the other worker lifted the panel above their heads and were aligning the panel into position, Jobayed, who was standing on the steel structure above them, moved to stand on one of the previously installed ceiling panels.

The panel that Jobayed stood on dislodged and swung downwards, causing him to fall 5.5 metres to the ground. Jobayed was conveyed to the National University Hospital and underwent surgery. He sustained spinal cord injury which resulted in permanent paralysis, and had to be wheelchair-bound permanently.

MOM’s investigations

Investigations by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) revealed that Sarkar did not obtain a permit-to-work (PTW) before carrying out the installation process, which must be procured from an authorised manager before commencing any work that is more than three metres above ground.

The PTW allows for an independent safety evaluation on the procedures and methods involved in the works to be conducted before commencement. In this case, Sarkar decided on the procedures and methods on his own. He also failed to ensure that the workers wore safety harnesses or helmets.

Overall, it was determined that the company failed to:

  • Manage the risks arising from the installation of tubular ceiling panels;
  • Establish a proper method of carrying out the installation;
  • Obtain a permit-to-work before carrying out hazardous work at height;
  • Ensure that all the employees were adequately trained to carried out their tasks; and
  • Ensure that employees were using personal protective equipment.

Sarkar’s sentencing is the second custodial sentence imposed on a supervisor for a negligent act, the first being the case of construction foreman for GS Engineering & Construction Corp, Nurun Novi Saydur Rahman, who was sentenced to 25 weeks’ imprisonment for an act that led to the deaths of two workers.

Sebastian Tan, Director of MOM’s Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate, noted that the incident could have been prevented if the employer and supervisor had taken the time to obtain a PTW and manage the safety risks before commencing work.

He said, “Employers and supervisors must ensure that they implement reasonable and practicable measures at the workplace, and must not knowingly put the lives of their workers at risk. In this instance, there was no culture of care and trust evident at the worksite.”

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