Court raises construction firm’s fine over death of employees

Published: 4:00 AM, December 16, 2016

SINGAPORE — A construction company that failed to ensure the safety and health of its employees — leading to two of them falling to their deaths from the seventh floor of a worksite in January 2014 — had its fine increased to S$250,000 yesterday, on appeal by prosecutors.

The appeal was the first ever for an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA).

In arguing their case, prosecutors urged the High Court to establish a proper sentencing framework for similar offences under the Act.

“Workplace deaths can be prevented, if all relevant stakeholders — workplace occupiers, contractors, employers and employees alike — play their part.

“It is timely that our courts send a clear sentencing position to deter unsafe workplace practices and promote a safety-conscious work culture,” said Deputy Public Prosecutors Ang Feng Qian and Mansoor Amir, in written submissions to the court.

On Jan 22, 2014, GS Engineering and Construction Corporation employees Rajib Md Abdul Hannan, 24, and Ratan Roy Abinash Roy, 28, fell about 22m to the ground while loading an 800kg air compressor onto an unsecured platform at the construction of two towers at Fusionopolis Way in Buona Vista.

The pair, from Bangladesh, died of multiple injuries.

They were instructed to carry out the task despite voicing concerns that it was unsafe to do so when the loading platform was suspended by the tower crane and not secured to a building structure.

After a coroner found that the fatal accident could have been avoided if safe work methods had been practised, the firm was charged and fined S$150,000.

Prosecutors urged the court to double the “manifestly inadequate” fine, noting that many workplace fatalities here, such as those resulting from falls, are “entirely preventable”. The court must convey the message that the “continued incidence of preventable deaths and injuries is wholly unacceptable”, they added.

GS Engineering’s lawyer argued that legal liability in the workplace should not fall only on the shoulders of the registered occupier, adding that the district judge had found that the lapses were not systemic.

While he allowed the appeal, Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon felt that a doubling of the fine was not warranted.

But he agreed with the prosecution that sentences imposed for this offence thus far are “on the low side” and do not have a sufficient deterrent effect.

Calling for “some structure” to be brought to the law in this area, the prosecution proposed for the starting points and range of sentences to take into account the culpability of the offender and the potential harm resulting from its actions. KELLY NG