A safety officer and project manager have been jailed after their actions were shown to have contributed to the death of a construction worker at Changi Airport. The incident and legal proceedings have highlighted the huge importance of risk assessments and proper safety measures in construction.
The incident occurred at the airport in March 2017. Miah Salim, aged 43, was carrying out work in an excavation pit to erect the formwork for a high tension cable conduit along Airport Boulevard. Mr Salim, who was leading a team of five men, was using a hammer to adjust a horizontal prop supporting two plates, when the prop slipped, and one of the steel plates struck him in the chest. Though he was rushed to hospital, Mr Salim later died of his injuries.
On September 23rd 2020, safety and health officer Tan Wee Meng, and project manager Lee Chung Ling, were both found to have committed negligent acts which had endangered Mr Salim and led to his death. The men’s employer, and the main contractor, Chan and Chan, were also fined S$150,000 for ‘failing to take practicable measures to ensure the health and safety of its employees’.
The ruling, announced by the Ministry of Manpower, should be an alarming wake-up call for those responsible for the health and safety of others in Singapore.
The Importance Of Safety Measures
The sentencing of the safety officer and project manager for Chan and Chan following this incident highlights the consequences of construction accidents for all involved. Though the jail sentences pale in comparison to the devastation of Mr Salim’s death, it illustrates the responsibility that those in charge of health and safety share.
The investigation by the Ministry of Manpower found that the workers had been using an ‘unsafe and unauthorized method of formwork construction’. The two managers responsible, Tan and Lee, failed to identify this beforehand.
Tan, safety officer, was found to have shirked his responsibility to assess the risk posed by the work properly. The risks posed by the formwork construction methods should have been highlighted and mitigated where possible. In turn, Tan failed to inform Chan and Chan of these risks. Tan should have carried out a full risk assessment and his employer, in turn, should have sought this out.
Lee, project manager, also had a responsibility to review work methods and processes. As well as failing to ensure all risks had been properly assessed, and risk assessments approved, Lee also failed to ensure the employer appointed a competent supervisor at the worksite. As project manager, the responsibility was Lee’s to approve and implement safe work procedures.
The court heard that the common method for formwork construction at the conduit was the metal module formwork and not the conventional formwork. The court decided that the employer, Chan and Chan, had approved the use of both timber and metal module formworks, through representatives Lee and Tan.
Court documents said: "The work activity for constructing the conduit using the metal module formwork was not considered in the risk assessment documents. There was also no documented procedure for the use of the metal module formwork."
Though the Ministry of Manpower has reported a reduction in workplace injuries of 25% in the first half of 2020, likely due to Singapore’s Circuit Breaker policy, fatalities have stayed level. Construction remained one of the top industries for workplace injuries. It is vital that, as work resumes, those with health and safety responsibilities stay vigilant.
To avoid tragic outcomes, safety officers, managers, and employees alike must ensure they are fully communicating, identifying risks, and implementing solutions where needed.
To discuss the Kee Safety Singapore range of safety solutions and services, or to take advantage of our free site survey offer, call +65 6385 4166 or use our online contact form.