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Viaduct collapse a ‘man-made incident, could have been avoided’

SINGAPORE — Describing the recent collapse of the uncompleted viaduct at Upper Changi Road East as a “man-made incident”, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said on Tuesday (July 25) it could have been avoided “if everyone involved in the project had paid enough attention to the design and construction of the viaduct, and the safety of workers”.

The collapsed viaduct on Friday (July 14). Preliminary investigations show that the corbels underneath the workers suddenly gave way, sending them crashing down. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

The collapsed viaduct on Friday (July 14). Preliminary investigations show that the corbels underneath the workers suddenly gave way, sending them crashing down. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

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SINGAPORE — Describing the recent collapse of the uncompleted viaduct at Upper Changi Road East as a “man-made incident”, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said on Tuesday (July 25) it could have been avoided “if everyone involved in the project had paid enough attention to the design and construction of the viaduct, and the safety of workers”. 

While the cause is still being investigated, the accident earlier this month is a wake-up call not to be complacent or take workplace safety and health for granted, said Mr Lim at the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Awards 2017.

In the accident, two corbels — stone structures on vertical columns that help to prop up horizontal beams that roads are laid on — gave way, causing a segment of the viaduct to collapse while 11 workers were on it.

Last week, cracks were found at 11 locations on the corbels of the remaining structure. The six viaduct sections where the cracks were discovered were further propped up “as a precautionary measure”, said the Land Transport Authority last Friday.  

The worker killed in the July 14 viaduct collapse, 31-year-old Chen Yinchuan, was the father of a three-year-old boy and had arrived in Singapore from China only three months ago. 

“It was his first time working in Singapore. He wanted to earn and save more for his son. But instead, he lost his life here,” said Mr Lim. 

“Ten other workers, three from China, six from Bangladesh, one from India, were injured in the same incident. Six of them are still in hospital. Among them, Gao Li Qin is fighting for his life, while two are still in the high dependency ward.”

Chen’s employer was Tongda Construction & Engineering, which was sub-contracted by the project’s contractor Or Kim Peow (OKP). Days before the viaduct accident, OKP had been convicted and fined for separate workplace safety lapses and the death of a worker in 2015. It was also blacklisted by the Manpower Ministry between January and April this year.

Mr Lim said companies must feel the “heat” when it comes to workplace safety and health. 

“What we really want to see is for more companies to not just feel the ‘heat’ but, more importantly, to also ‘see the light’ — to recognise that investment in workplace safety and health is good for both workers and their businesses,” he said.

“It’s our shared responsibility to ensure that every worker can go home safely every day, and every foreign worker can return to their home country after every work assignment here.”

Safe workplaces are good for businesses because productivity and safety are “two sides of the same coin”, said Mr Lim.

At the awards ceremony at Resorts World Sentosa, Mr Lim noted an improvement in overall workplace safety and health (WSH) performance in the past year. There were 19 workplace fatalities in the first half of this year, compared to 42 workplace fatalities in the first half of last year and 24 in the second half.

He acknowledged the efforts of the 172 organisations and individuals who received awards. For instance, Rockwell Automation Asia Pacific Business Centre, a 10-time award recipient, has maintained zero injuries for the last 10 years by tracking and investigating every near-miss “as if it was a Lost Workday Injury”. 

Near-misses involving electricity are shared across all Rockwell facilities globally within 48  hours to prevent similar incidents.

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