Construction director's death could have been averted if safety measures were in place: State Coroner

Mr Koh Kok Heng died from severe head injuries on Feb 10 after he fell through an opening in an attic floor at 38 University Walk near Dunearn Road. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The death of a construction company director could have been avoided if the company had implemented safety measures following an assessment of safety hazards it had carried out, said the state coroner.

Delivering his findings regarding the death of Mr Koh Kok Heng, 53, State Coroner Adam Nakhoda said on Tuesday (Nov 9) that a risk assessment had been carried out by the company, JMS Construction, with falling from height identified as a potential safety hazard.

Mr Koh died from severe head injuries on Feb 10 after he fell 4.7m through an opening in an attic floor, situated in a two-storey property at 38 University Walk near Dunearn Road.

"While they had risk assessments and control measures, it was evident that none of (these measures) were implemented. None of (the workers nor Mr Koh) were wearing safety belts or harnesses," said the state coroner.

Ruling Mr Koh's death an unfortunate workplace misadventure, State Coroner Nakhoda added that the death "may have been averted if (JMS) had implemented their own risk assessment measures."

Mr Koh, a permanent resident from Malaysia, was one of two company directors at JMS.

The inquiry found that plywood was used to cover the openings on the floor of the attic under construction; however, the piece used to cover the hole Mr Koh fell through was only just wide enough and not secured to the floor to prevent it from shifting.

Moments before Mr Koh fell, he instructed workers to get a larger piece of plywood and nails to secure a larger piece to the floor and cover the hole.

While Mr Koh was wearing a safety helmet and shoes, there was no evidence of a safety line to which workers could attach safety belts and harnesses, said the state coroner.

None of the workers observed what Mr Koh was doing right before he fell but one of them heard a loud sound that sounded to him "like plywood breaking".

Another worker saw Mr Koh fall in a "standing position", with his legs first, and land in a seated position on the stairs. A piece of plywood was leaning against his head.

The state coroner said that it is unclear if the head injuries were caused when Mr Koh hit the stairs, a wall, or if they were obtained from the falling plywood.

Mr Koh was bleeding from the head, no pulse was detected and he did not respond to cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital and pronounced dead at 12.45pm.

Following his death, the Ministry of Manpower issued a stop-work order at the site which was lifted in April.

The Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council sent out a reminder to all stakeholders which stated, among other things, that floor openings should be covered and housekeeping should be done regularly to prevent slipping, especially in the presence of floor openings. It also advised that warning signs should be installed to alert workers to hazards including floor openings and risk of falling.

State Coroner Nakhoda urged stakeholders to take heed of these recommendations and said that regardless of whether construction works are performed on high-rise buildings or a two-storey house, "there is an overwhelming need to ensure risk measures are implemented".

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