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Jail for construction manager whose negligence led to worker's death after floor slab collapsed

SINGAPORE — A construction manager with more than three decades of experience was sentenced to 11 months’ jail on Wednesday (June 15) for his involvement in a 2019 workplace death.
The collapsed slab that killed the worker identified in court documents only as Santo.
The collapsed slab that killed the worker identified in court documents only as Santo.
  • Kong Chiew Fook had assumed a second-storey balcony floor slab was strong enough to hold on its own
  • Supporting walls on the ground level had been hacked away, which meant the floor slab was susceptible to collapse
  • When foreign worker Santo was working on the balcony, the floor slab gave way and he was pinned underneath it
  • Another worker was thrown off a scaffold and sustained multiple fractures

SINGAPORE — A construction manager with more than three decades of experience was sentenced to 11 months’ jail on Wednesday (June 15) for his involvement in a 2019 workplace death.

Kong Chiew Fook had been supervising and giving instructions to three foreign workers during the reconstruction of a two-storey landed home.

He told them to follow an unsafe demolition sequence and to work on an unsupported balcony floor slab, then left to go to another worksite.

Due to his negligence, the floor slab collapsed, resulting in one worker dying and another worker being seriously injured.

Kong, a 55-year-old Malaysian, pleaded guilty in a district court on Wednesday to a single charge of committing a negligent act that endangered the safety of his workers, which falls under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

The prosecution withdrew two other charges of committing a rash act.

The court heard that Kong was a construction manager at contractor Springview Enterprises, which was tasked with reconstructing the semi-detached house along Aroozoo Avenue in the Upper Serangoon area.

He was overall in charge of the worksite. This included supervising and instructing the workers on how to carry out works.

Prior to the accident on March 4, 2019, he had been in the construction industry for more than 30 years and had passed the requisite construction industry certifications.

That fateful day, he instructed three workers — Santo, Ponnir and Ddi Shahab — to carry out hacking works on the second level of the house. He then left for another worksite, leaving them to perform the works unsupervised.

Court documents gave only one name for Santo and Ponnir.

Around 1.40pm, Santo took over Ddi who was hacking the parapet wall of the back balcony. Ddi walked away for a short break, but at that moment, the balcony floor slab suddenly gave way.

Santo was pinned under the floor slab after it flipped in the midst of falling. Ponnir was thrown out of a scaffold that had also fallen, and he landed about 2m away from Santo.

Other workers who heard the crash rushed to the backyard and attempted to lift up the floor slab, but were not successful in extricating Santo. They had to use an excavator to lift it up sufficiently before Santo could be pulled out.

He was pronounced dead at the scene by a paramedic, while Ponnir was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Ponnir suffered serious injuries including multiple fractures and was discharged from the hospital nearly two months later. Santo’s cause of death was certified as head injuries.

FLOOR SLAB SUSCEPTIBLE TO COLLAPSE

Investigations by the authorities revealed that before construction works began in December 2018, including the demolition of existing structures, Kong was given a copy of the demolition plan and structural drawings which were prepared and endorsed by a professional engineer.

These plans clearly indicated that the demolition works should be carried out in strict compliance with the Code of Practice on Demolition.

Kong’s boss had also reminded him “to adopt a systemic approach from roof to ground method a.k.a (also known as) top-down approach for the demolition works”, the court heard. This would ensure the structural stability of the building or structure.

Ministry of Manpower prosecutor Mohd Fadhli told the court: “The sequence in which a building or other structure is demolished is critical to the safety of the workers and the general public. And, except in special circumstances, buildings and structures should be demolished in reverse order to their construction.”

The sequence in which a building or other structure is demolished is critical to the safety of the workers and the general public.
Mr Mohd Fadhli, prosecuting officer from the Ministry of Manpower

However, Kong told the workers to start hacking and demolishing the supporting walls of the back balcony at the ground level before tackling the balcony floor above.

The walls at the ground level underneath the balcony had been hacked away using an excavator, as instructed by Kong, about one month earlier.

This left the balcony floor slab without any supporting pillars, rendering it susceptible to collapse.

Kong had assumed the floor slab was strong enough to hold on its own, based solely on his experience.

FALSE SENSE OF COMPLACENCY: JUDGE

In mitigation, Kong’s lawyer, Mr Marshall Lim from RHTLaw Asia, told the court that his client is “naturally saddened by the death and serious injuries of workers under his care”.

“He would not have imagined, given his then-impeccable safety record, to be here today before Your Honour to be sentenced for an accident at a worksite under his charge,” Mr Lim told District Judge Janet Wang.

The defence counsel noted that apart from this, Kong and his wife, who has been battling breast cancer, have been in ill health. He remains the sole breadwinner of his family and the situation has been “weighing very heavily on him”, Mr Lim added.

The lawyer also asked the judge to consider the courage Kong took to “come forward to take responsibility” for his actions.

“He knows he could have done better. He knows he could have made an alternative choice. We’re not trying to excuse his behaviour,” Mr Lim said.

When sentencing Kong, District Judge Wang noted that he was highly advertent to the risks posed by his instructions, but was lulled into a false sense of complacency when nothing bad happened till the “tragic events” of that day.

Nevertheless, she took into account the remorse and contrition he had shown by pleading guilty.

In a press release, the Manpower Ministry said that Springview and its director, Heng Kong Chuan, are also facing charges for failing to take reasonably practicable steps in ensuring the safety of its workers.

Mr Sebastian Tan, the ministry’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate, said that in light of the present case and another fatal demolition accident on June 10 this year, all contractors should take note of the thorough risk assessments for any demolition works.

“Ensuring workplace safety and health requires the commitment by all parties from management to supervisors to individual workers,” he added.

Kong could have been jailed for up to two years or fined up to S$30,000, or punished with both.

Related topics

court crime workplace death Workplace Safety and Health Act construction site

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