Jail for construction site supervisor who ignored safety protocols, leading to worker's death

The worker was killed after a balcony slab above where he was working collapsed. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF MANPOWER

SINGAPORE - A construction site supervisor disregarded demolition safety protocols and instructed his men to hack away parts of a two-storey house, beginning from the ground level.

As a result, the balcony slab above where a worker was working collapsed, killing him and causing another worker to suffer severe fractures.

The supervisor, Malaysian Kong Chiew Fook, 55, was on Wednesday (June 15) jailed for 11 months after he pleaded guilty to committing a negligent act which led to the death of a worker and serious injuries to another.

Kong was a construction manager at Springview Enterprises and was supervising workers in a project to reconstruct a two-storey house in Aroozoo Avenue in Hougang between December 2018 and August 2019, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) prosecuting officer Mohd Fadhli told the court.

To reconstruct the house, existing structures had to be torn down and the owner engaged professional engineer Tiong Hoo Tuong to prepare a demolition plan, method statement and structural drawings.

These were necessary for the works to be permitted.

Kong was given a copy of the plans and oversaw the project.

On March 4, 2019, Kong instructed three workers, whose names were given only as Mr Santo, Mr Ponnir and Mr Ddin Shahab, to carry out hacking work at the premises.

They worked on the second floor and were instructed by Kong to hack the walls of a toilet and the parapet wall of the back balcony.

Kong then left for another worksite, leaving the men unsupervised.

Once they completed the tasks at 1pm, Mr Ponnir erected a one-tier scaffold as a platform for the hacking of the top of the wall of the back balcony.

At 1.40pm, Mr Santo took over and hacked the parapet wall on the second floor. At that moment, the floor slab of the balcony at level two collapsed, pinning Mr Santo underneath it, said the prosecution.

Mr Ponnir, who was working on the one-tier scaffold, was also thrown off.

Workers rushed to the site and used an excavator to lift up the floor slab before Mr Santo was pulled out.

He was pronounced dead at the scene and reportedly died of head injuries.

Mr Ponnir suffered multiple fractures and was hospitalised for two months.

Investigations showed that Kong had been provided with the demolition documents which clearly stated that the works were to be carried out with established safety protocols.

Before the works, he was also reminded by Springview director Heng Kong Chuan to adopt a top-down approach for the demolition works, a method of starting from the roof to the ground which would help ensure the structural stability of the building, said Mr Fadhli.

But Kong disregarded these rules and told his men to follow an unsafe demolition sequence, hacking away the supporting walls of the back balcony at the ground floor a month before the balcony floor slab above.

As a result, the balcony floor slab was unsupported and left in a cantilevered position without any supporting pillars and was prone to collapse, said the prosecution, adding that this scenario was cautioned against in the paperwork.

Mr Fadhli said: "He assumed that the balcony floor slab was strong enough to hold on its own. This assumption was based solely on his experience, contrary to the demolition plan, method statement and instructions prior to the start of works."

"His actions resulted in the collapse of the balcony slab, and the resulting death (of Mr Santo) and the said injuries to Ponnir," Mr Fadhli added, seeking between 12 and 14 months' jail for Kong.

Urging the judge to sentence Kong to not more than 10 months' jail, defence lawyer Marshall Lim said Kong had a clean record and asked for compassion as he was the sole breadwinner for his family and Kong and his wife were not well.

He added that Kong believed the cantilevered balcony was stable since the first-floor structures supporting it had been removed a month prior to the accident.

District Judge Janet Wang said Kong had a false sense of complacency.

"The lack of a greater degree of supervision over the demolition works is glaring," she added.

MOM said on Wednesday that Springview and its director have also been charged for failing to take reasonably practicable steps in ensuring their workers' safety.

Mr Sebastian Tan, MOM's director of Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate, reminded contractors to conduct thorough risk assessments for any demolition works and to communicate the plan clearly to the team.

He added: "Under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, we can hold managers or supervisors personally accountable for safety and health lapses, as shown by Kong's imprisonment."

For committing a negligent act which endangers the safety and health of others, Kong could have been jailed for up to two years and fined a maximum of $30,000.

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