Maid's fatal fall ruled a misadventure

Circumstantial evidence suggests she fell while cleaning windows of third-floor flat

Maids being trained on how to safely clean windows.
Maids being trained on how to safely clean windows.PHOTO: ST FILE

Ten days into her new job, a 25- year-old Indonesian maid was cleaning windows at a third-storey Housing Board flat service balcony when she fell, and died 12 hours later.

State Coroner Marvin Bay found Ms Ella Wahyu Setyaningrum's death on Dec 4 last year to be an "unfortunate misadventure".

He said generally, it would be helpful for employers to emphasise to their domestic workers the potential dangers in cleaning windows, hanging laundry, or accessing structures that protrude from high-rise apartments and present potential fall hazards.

Domestic workers, particularly those from rural backgrounds, he said, may be naive to the hazards inherent in undertaking such work without proper tools and methods, or supervision. "Some may put themselves at even greater risk by improvising with stools, chairs and ladders to access hard-to-reach places," he said.

No one saw Ms Ella fall at Punggol Parcvista in Sumang Link.

Circumstantial evidence points to her having fallen from a height while cleaning the kitchen window, apparently using a grey stool for access, he said. "This is borne out by the open windows and grilles, the cleaning fluid found nearby, and especially the pink cleaning cloth found at the sloping edge below the window.''

  • Strict rules on window cleaning

  • Foreign maids here are not allowed to clean window exteriors unless enhanced and safe work conditions are in place.

    The employer, or an adult representative, must be around to supervise the maid while she cleans the interior of the window.

    Also, window grilles have to be installed and locked while the windows are being cleaned.

    The rules have been in force since June 4, 2012. Failure to comply constitutes a breach of the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations, which fall under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

    Employers who fail to comply may be prosecuted and permanently barred from hiring a maid.

    On May 3, 2012, a 46-year-old woman was fined the maximum $5,000 for failing to ensure the safety of her maid, who fell to her death while cleaning windows.

    In Hong Kong, since Jan 1 this year, all foreign maids hired or renewing their contracts have been protected by new regulations on window cleaning aimed at avoiding deadly accidents in high-rise buildings.

    Under a new clause in these contracts, employers are not allowed to ask helpers to clean the outside of any window not on ground level or next to a balcony or corridor.

    Other conditions are that the window is fitted with a secured grille, and no part of the helper's body, except the arms, extends beyond the ledge.

    Elena Chong

She had then been in Singapore about a month, having worked for four days for her first employer at a landed property before arriving at the Punggol flat on Nov 24 to take care of her employer, who had undergone bypass surgery.

The previous maid had taught her how to do household chores during a three-day overlap.

On Dec 3, the employer's daughter, 36, who is married, and Ms Ella had been cleaning the service balcony. Later, when the daughter saw Ms Ella standing on a stool to retrieve some clothing from the indoor drying rack, she reportedly admonished her and instructed her on the proper way to keep clothing on the drying rack.

She asserted that she had not asked Ms Ella to clean the windows when she went to sleep. She woke up at about 1.20pm after hearing a woman's voice shouting for her.

She ran to the kitchen and called out for Ms Ella, who was found at the foot of the block with her right hand encased in a plastic bag.

Ms Ella died from multiple injuries at about 2am the next day.

Investigations by the Ministry of Manpower did not reveal that she had any issues relating to her well-being or salary.

The employer and the household were placed on an interim blacklist pending the inquiry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Maid's fatal fall ruled a misadventure'. Subscribe