Air-con man's fatal fall ruled a misadventure

Air-conditioner technicians carrying out manual dis-assembly and shifting of bulky components should use a portable step platform rather than A-frame ladders, said a coroner yesterday, noting that that option would allow a more stable foothold.

These safe work practices when working from height were highlighted by State Coroner Marvin Bay when he gave his findings at an inquest into the death of Malaysian air-con technician Lai Yong Soon, 39, on Aug 31 last year.

A Ministry of Manpower (MOM) investigator said at the inquiry that any person using an A-frame ladder should maintain at least three points of support when ascending, or descending, from the ladder.

The person should also not be bearing any load on his arms when moving up or down a ladder.

Mr Lai was trying to re-mount a 15kg cleaned ceiling cassette fan coil unit into the air-conditioner with his co-worker in the master bedroom at a house in Jalan Tai See, off Sixth Avenue, on Aug 23 when he fell from the sixth step of a 10-step A-frame ladder. He hit his head twice on the parquet floor and was unconscious for five minutes before he regained consciousness.

The inquiry heard that the two men had gone to the house that morning to service a faulty Daikin air-conditioner installed within the false ceiling on the second storey.

After cleaning the ceiling cassette unit, Mr Lai and Mr Tan Hou Fatt climbed up their respective ladders bearing the 15kg fan coil unit between them. Mr Lai lost his balance and fell 1.5m to the floor. Mr Tan had also fallen from his own ladder but he managed to jump off unhurt.

Mr Lai was taken to National University Hospital where he later died from head injuries.

Coroner Bay said Mr Lai's sad demise underscores the importance of adopting safe work practices when working from height.

He said the duo's activity was made even more hazardous by the fact that the two, already destabilised by having to carry the load up a ladder, had to also co-ordinate their movements. Any failure to synchronise their movements at each step and maintain their balance across the tandem ladders would have caused further de-stabilisation.

MOM senior investigation officer Tang Cheng Poh testified that a third worker should have been on hand to pass the air-con component parts from the ground to the workers working on portable step platforms.

Coroner Bay found Mr Lai's death to be an unfortunate industrial misadventure.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline 'Air-con man's fatal fall ruled a misadventure'. Print Edition | Subscribe