PIE viaduct collapse: Jail for engineer who knew of calculation errors but failed to fix them

Indonesian Robert Arianto Tjandra knew his team of engineers was inexperienced in designing bridges, but failed to give them guidance or instructions. PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, MINISTRY OF MANPOWER, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The engineer who prepared building work plans for the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) viaduct that collapsed in July 2017 was on Monday (Dec 2) sentenced to 86 weeks' jail, or slightly over one year and nine months, as well as a fine of $10,000.

In delivering her sentence, Deputy Presiding Judge S. Jennifer Marie said that the potential for harm in this case was high.

Indonesian Robert Arianto Tjandra, 46, the qualified person from subcontractor CPG Consultants, knew his team of engineers was inexperienced in designing bridges, but failed to give them guidance or instructions.

He also failed to check the design assumptions made for the corbels, which are support structures, between affected vertical columns that collapsed. The viaduct rests on these vertical columns which are called piers.

Even after he was aware of the errors in the calculations made by the engineering team, he failed to take necessary remedial steps.

It was this reckless act that resulted in the collapse of the PIE viaduct, which killed Chinese worker Chen Yinchuan, 31, and injured 10 others.

The 11 workers, who were working on the affected deck slab, fell to the ground from a height of at least 9m.

Arianto Tjandra, a Singapore permanent resident, had faced five charges under the Building Control Act and the Workplace Safety and Health Act - the highest among those who were charged.

On Nov 20, he pleaded guilty to three of the five charges, with the remaining two charges taken into consideration for sentencing.

He admitted to recklessly endangering the safety of others by putting up structural plans without checking the design assumptions made for the corbels between the affected piers, and after knowing that the wrong design assumptions had been used, failed to carry out the necessary remedial works.

He also pleaded guilty to failing to take reasonable steps and to exercise due diligence to ensure that the building works were designed in accordance with the Building Control Act, as well as authorising strengthening works to a permanent corbel without seeking the necessary approval.

The court heard that Arianto Tjandra led a team of five design engineers who had no or limited experience with bridge design involving the design of the corbels used in the PIE viaduct.

Of the five engineers, Mr Cao Qinghao and Mr William Wang were designing a bridge structure for the first time, while Mr Wang Peng was on his first project that involved designing corbels for supporting loads.

The remaining two engineers had limited experience. Mr Liu Xiayu had designed temporary corbels for only one span in a prior project, while Mr Duong Khanh had designed only one cross head for a two-span bridge.

None of the five design engineers knew how to do the calculations, and they did not make the correct calculations, said the prosecution.

Five individuals and the main contractor, Or Kim Peow Contractors (OKP), were charged in court in May last year for their roles in the incident.

OKP has since been fined $10,000 for carrying out unauthorised strengthening works on the support structures of the viaduct. It still faces a remaining charge for causing the death of Mr Chen and the injuries of the 10 workers, which it is contesting in a trial.

Engineer Leong Sow Hon, 61, who was appointed by the Land Transport Authority as an accredited checker, was jailed six months in July for failing to go through the detailed plans and design calculations for permanent corbels.

The construction firm's group managing director Or Toh Wat was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal in July this year for all his three charges in relation to the collapse.

The cases of two other individuals allegedly linked to the incident are still pending. They are OKP project engineer Wong Kiew Hai, 31, and OKP project director Yee Chee Keong, 49.

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