Worker’s death near Changi Airport site: Unsafe construction method used, no supervision given, coroner says

Worker’s death near Changi Airport site: Unsafe construction method used, no supervision given, coroner says
On March 22, 2017, Salim Miah died while working on the construction of Changi Airport's new Terminal 4. TODAY File Photo
Published: 12:00 AM, September 12, 2017

SINGAPORE — The use of an improvised construction method led to an accident at a worksite near Changi Airport’s new Terminal 4, killing a 43-year-old foreign worker in March this year. While working at an excavated pit, Salim Miah was hit and crushed by a metal plate weighing about 1,000kg when it dislodged.

In an inquiry into the death of the Bangladeshi national, State Coroner Marvin Bay concluded on Monday (Sept 11) that the “tragic industrial misadventure” arose from the unsafe method of erecting formwork — where a mould is created and concrete is poured in to form a base within the pit. The heavy metal plate was part of the set-up.

Mr Bay said: “Mr Salim’s sad demise from an unsafely erected, falling metal plate calls attention to the crucial need for employers to identify, and discourage faulty or unsafe work practices, as well as provide adequate oversight and close supervision of worksites under their care and control.”

It is also crucial for workers to be accustomed to adopting a “safety-first” mindset, and to develop a high degree of mindfulness to likely hazards at their workplaces, he added. Such measures are a way to attain the national goal of reducing workplace fatalities to under one death per 100,000 workers in 10 years’ time, he said.

On March 22, Salim led a group of five workers to set up the formwork for a concrete base in the 2.5m-deep pit. The pit was meant to house a cable conduit servicing Terminal 4, which is scheduled to open next month.

Two metal plates, each weighing 1,000kg and measuring 6m by 1.5m, were placed vertically at both ends of the site, supported by two galvanised iron beams and a wooden prop, among other tools.

At around 11.35am, the wooden prop fell, so Salim walked over, set it up right and hammered it in.

Co-worker Islam Md Rafiqul noticed that an iron beam had begun to slip and yelled at Salim to stop work, but he insisted on finishing his work. That was when one plate toppled onto him.

The plate struck his right arm first, but as he moved, it fell onto his chest and pinned him to the ground.

Mr Islam shouted for help, and another co-worker used an excavator to shift the plate.

At this point, Salim was silent and motionless, with blood oozing from his nose.

Paramedics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him en-route to Changi General Hospital, but he failed to respond to resuscitation efforts even in the accident and emergency department, and was pronounced dead at about 1pm.

A pathologist found that Salim had died from blunt force trauma to the chest and abdomen. His sternum and ribs were fractured, and he had internal injuries and bleeding.

Investigators from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) found that the five workers working with Salim were unfamiliar with the procedure for constructing such formwork, and had merely been following his instructions. Salim had been working with Chan and Chan Engineering since 2013.

Subsequent investigations revealed the “disquieting” fact that the method of using facing metal sheets, supported only by galvanised iron and wood, had been largely improvised by Salim, the coroner said.

Staff members from Chan and Chan Engineering who were in charge of site management, including the project manager and safety officer, claimed to be in the dark about this. Project manager Lee Chung Ling said that the approved method was to use a modular metal formwork.

Investigators discovered that there was insufficient space in the pit for the approved method, due to the presence of pre-existing live high-tension cables in the ground. MOM senior investigation officer Tan Soon Heng said that despite knowing about these live cables, Mr Lee “did not take steps to ensure that a safe and feasible method of works was approved”.

There was no system to ensure that approved construction methods were used, and workers were left to their own devices to complete the works, Mr Tan added.

More startlingly, Chan and Chan Engineering had not abided by its own risk assessment exercise. One proposed control measure to prevent formwork from collapsing is for the formwork design to be calculated and endorsed by a professional engineer. Other measures stipulated that the construction of formwork must be monitored by a formwork supervisor, and there should be daily inspection of formwork.

Mr Bay said: “MOM investigations revealed that these measures were not implemented. Most egregiously, there was no formwork supervisor to supervise the erection of the formwork at the time of the event.”

In his findings, Mr Bay noted that there was only one unsupported step ladder leading into the pit. “(There was) no means of quick escape for Mr Salim to adroitly exit the excavated trench, even if he had acted on Mr Islam’s warning,” he said.

The MOM had issued an immediate stop-work order on the site after the fatal incident. The order lasted 26 days and was lifted after its inspectors were satisfied that the areas of concern pertaining to unsafe excavation and formwork were addressed.

In a statement issued on Monday, a spokesperson from the ministry said that further action on Chan and Chan Engineering is dependent on the conclusion of MOM’s investigations.