Jail term increased for negligent supervisor over worksite death

Mao Xuezhong had instructed his workers to descend onto the top of a table form such as the one pictured. PHOTO: COURT DOCUMENTS

SINGAPORE - A worksite supervisor, whose negligence to ensure that the safety harnesses of his workers were anchored resulted in a fatality, had his jail term increased from 24 weeks to a year on Wednesday (May 20).

The sentence was raised after an appeal by the prosecution to a three-judge High Court panel, which also issued new sentencing guidelines for such offences under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

Mao Xuezhong, 49, had instructed two workers, who were on the fifth floor of a building under construction, to descend onto a structure known as a table form that was being lifted from the fourth floor.

While both workers wore safety harnesses, only one of them anchored his before descending onto the table form, which was 6m long, 3.6m wide and 4.8m tall.

The other worker, Mr Mastagir Rana (Sohal) Md Aminur Rahman, 25, slid off the table form when it suddenly tilted. The Bangladeshi national fell to a ramp on the third floor and succumbed to his injuries in hospital four days later.

The accident took place in January 2014 at a worksite in Henderson Road.

Mao, a Chinese national, was charged only in September 2017 with performing a negligent act by instructing the two workers to descend onto the table form when it was unsafe to do so and failing to ensure that Mr Sohal had anchored his safety harness before descending.

The offence carries a maximum fine of $30,000 and a maximum jail term of two years.

During his trial, the surviving worker, Mr Alam Khan, testified that he had asked Mao for a lifeline to secure his harness, but the supervisor did not say anything.

Mr Khan said that he did not dare to anger Mao by asking a second time, so on his own initiative, he anchored his harness to a guard rail at the edge of the fifth floor.

He said Mr Sohal did not listen to his advice to do the same.

Mao denied that he had instructed the two workers to descend onto the table form and said he was working on the other side of the fifth floor at the time.

He also disputed Mr Khan's testimony about the request for a lifeline.

However, the district judge accepted Mr Khan's version and sentenced Mao to 24 weeks' jail based on a sentencing framework set out by the High Court in a previous case.

Mao appealed against his conviction and sentence, while the prosecution appealed against the sentence. The prosecution also called for the sentencing framework to be reconsidered.

On Wednesday, the three-judge court dismissed Mao's appeal and found that he was negligent.

As for the sentence, the court made several objections in principle with the previous framework, which treated fines and imprisonment as interchangeable.

Instead, the court set out a sentencing matrix to determine an indicative starting point based on the level of harm and the level of culpability.

The starting point for a case with low harm and low culpability would be a fine of up to $15,000, and for a case with high harm and high culpability, a jail term of between a year and two years.

The court said there was a high degree of harm and culpability in Mao's case and a one-year jail term was appropriate.

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