Prosecution seeks maximum $1m fine for construction firm involved in 2017 PIE viaduct collapse

A photo taken on July 14, 2017, shows the collapsed section of the viaduct adjacent to a slip road from Upper Changi Road East to the PIE. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The prosecution on Friday (April 9) urged a district court to impose the maximum fine of $1 million on a construction company for its role in the 2017 Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) viaduct collapse that left one worker dead and 10 injured.

This is the first time the prosecution has sought the enhanced maximum punishment for a construction firm for violations under the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA).

In January, after a 60-day trial, Or Kim Peow (OKP) Contractors was found guilty of failing to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of workers.

The prosecution called for the enhanced punishment under the Act for OKP as a repeat offender since it was fined previously for a separate incident in which one worker fell to his death.

The prosecution told the court: "OKP failed to act with care in the lead-up to the collapse, notwithstanding that it was facing sanction before the court for prior safety lapses and despite its contemporaneous assurances in its mitigation plea that it would 'strive to have a fail-safe workplace' with 'zero tolerance for such lapses'."

Calling the company's behaviour "reckless", the prosecution added: "OKP egregiously ignored numerous red flags of risk to workers' safety."

Three days before the PIE viaduct collapse on July 14, 2017, OKP was fined $250,000 in court for safety lapses that led to an Indian national falling to his death from a platform below the Yio Chu Kang flyover in 2015. Three other workers were seriously injured.

OKP's lawyer argued that the enhanced punishments would not apply as its previous conviction was under a different section of the WSHA.

In the 2015 incident, OKP was fined for its role as an occupier of the workplace. In the current case, it was convicted for its role as principal.

"The previous conviction is not the same offence... and thus the enhanced framework sentencing does not apply," said Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo of WongPartnership.

The sentencing submissions for project director Yee Chee Keong, 51, and project engineer Wong Kiew Hai, 32, were also addressed in court on Friday.

Both have been convicted of recklessly endangering the men after failing to call for all work to be stopped even when cracks on corbels were spotted. Corbels are thicker brackets that act as support structures.

The two men were also convicted of obstructing the course of justice after deleting messages and photographs relating to the accident and lying to the authorities.

The prosecution urged the court to sentence Yee to 15 months in jail and Wong for 13 months.

Wong and Yee are represented by Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah.

Investigations revealed that a 40m section of the Upper Changi PIE viaduct, between piers 40 and 41, had given way on July 14, 2017. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF MANPOWER

In the early hours of July 14, 2017, the uncompleted viaduct in Upper Changi Road East collapsed, causing the death of Chinese worker Chen Yinchuan, 31, and injuring 10 others. The 11 workers, who were on the affected deck slab, plunged several metres amid metal bars, concrete and machinery as the superstructure collapsed.

The technical cause of the collapse was the failure of the temporary corbels supporting the viaduct.

There were warning signs prior to the collapse. These included multiple, repeated instances of cracks appearing on the corbels.

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Four individuals and main contractor OKP were charged in 2018 in connection with the incident. They were Yee and Wong; Indonesian Robert Arianto Tjandra, 47, the engineer who prepared building work plans for the viaduct; and Leong Sow Hon, 62, the accredited checker for its construction.

Or Kim Peow Contractors' project director Yee Chee Keong (above) and project engineer Wong Kiew Hai have been convicted of recklessly endangering worker safety and obstructing the course of justice. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Or Kim Peow Contractors' project director Yee Chee Keong (above) and project engineer Wong Kiew Hai have been convicted of recklessly endangering worker safety and obstructing the course of justice. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

In 2019, Tjandra was jailed for 86 weeks and fined $10,000, while Leong was jailed for six months.

OKP was previously fined $10,000 for carrying out unauthorised strengthening works on the permanent corbels of the viaduct.

Yee and Wong can be jailed for up to two years, fined up to $200,000 or both for recklessly endangering the workers,. They can be jailed for up to seven years and fined for obstructing justice.

Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun is scheduled to sentence OKP, Yee and Wong on May 12.

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