Gardener's fall from palm tree an 'unfortunate industrial misadventure', says coroner

Mr Murugayah M. Maniyam was taken to Changi General Hospital in a state of deep coma after the fall, and died two days later.
Mr Murugayah M. Maniyam was taken to Changi General Hospital in a state of deep coma after the fall, and died two days later.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A gardener was standing on a ladder to cut a palm tree outside the Eu Yan Sang Centre when he fell and died two days later from multiple fractures and head injuries.

A coroner's inquiry heard that the trunk of the 4.8m tall termite-infested tree broke at the 60cm mark from its base due to decay, causing Mr Murugayah M. Maniyam to be thrown out into the centre's compound.

The 56-year-old and two other foreign workers had been assigned to fell the tree portion by portion starting from the top at Tai Seng Drive on Sept 16 last year when he fell and landed on the left side of his body.

He was wearing a safety belt and had strapped himself onto the ladder with a rope. He was not wearing any safety headgear.

He was taken to Changi General Hospital in a state of deep coma, and died two days later.

The inquest heard that his colleague placed a ladder against the tree while the other climbed it and tied a rope around the palm tree and ladder. The worker then went higher and tied a rope around the highest part of the tree, and threw a rope to his colleague who had remained on the public pavement.

After putting on the safety belt, Mr Murugayah strapped himself onto the ladder with another rope. He climbed the ladder and began to cut the tree with a chainsaw.

After he had severed the top part of the palm tree, his colleagues and his boss, the owner of Teston Landscape and Contractor, heard a loud thud.

They realised that Mr Murugayah had fallen and landed on the public pavement. Next to him were the ladder and the fallen palm trunk.

In his findings on Thursday (March 10), State Coroner Marvin Bay said a Ministry of Manpower investigation showed that Mr Murugayah's position, while anchored from the ladder by a safety belt, was extremely hazardous.

The workers did not know that the palm tree was in a severely decayed state.

Coroner Bay said there was no basis to suspect foul play. The work methods were nevertheless questionable, he said.

According to the National Parks Board and Singapore Arboriculture Society, a visual tree assessment should be carried out to determine the tree's condition and structural integrity before any removal operations.

A termite-infested tree may lose its strength and structural integrity.

"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 the coroner.

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

Coroner Bay said Mr Murugayah's injuries were consistent with an accidental fall, which occurred when the palm tree trunk collapsed. He said his death was an "unfortunate industrial misadventure''.

Mr Murugayah's only daughter, pharmacy technician Sree Vithyaa Lakshmi Murugayah, 24, together with other family members, attended the inquiry.