Gardener's death ruled 'industrial misadventure'

Not only should he have been working on a mobile elevated work platform when trying to cut down a palm tree, but the tree itself was also infested with termites, leaving it little more than an empty shell.

These were the findings of a coroner's inquiry into the death of a 56-year-old gardener, who fell while cutting a palm tree outside the Eu Yan Sang Centre last September. State Coroner Marvin Bay found that his death was an "unfortunate industrial misadventure".

The court heard that Mr Murugayah M. Maniyam Murugayan and two foreign workers were assigned by their employer, Mr Rajendran Govindasamy, 56, owner of Teston Landscape and Contractor, to fell the 4.2m-tall tree on Sept 16.

After his colleague had tied and secured a rope around the tree and secured the ladder to the tree, Mr Murugayah climbed up and began cutting the top part of the trunk with a chainsaw. He had put on a safety belt but was not wearing any headgear. He had severed the top part of the tree when his colleagues and boss heard a loud thud. Mr Murugayah had fallen together with the palm tree, and landed on the pavement in Tai Seng Drive, a distance of 2.24m from the stump. He suffered multiple fractures and a head injury. He died two days later in hospital.

In his findings yesterday, Coroner Bay said a Ministry of Manpower investigation showed that the work method adopted was extremely hazardous in the light of the discovery that the palm tree was in a severely decayed state. But the workers did not know this.

"In this case, the palm tree showed internal decay and most of the trunk tissue had been degraded, leaving pockets of cavities and just the thin shell of its outer bark," said Coroner Bay.

MOM also pointed out that as Mr Murugayah was working from a height of more than 3m, he should have been using a mobile elevated work platform.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2016, with the headline 'Gardener's death ruled 'industrial misadventure''. Print Edition | Subscribe