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Underwater World fined S$105,000 over safety lapses uncovered after diver died from stingray attack

SINGAPORE — The now-defunct attraction Underwater World Singapore was fined S$105,000 on Tuesday (March 23) over four safety breaches that were uncovered following a veteran diver’s death in 2016.

Philip Chan, then aged 62, had died in 2016 from being stung in the chest by a stingray.

Philip Chan, then aged 62, had died in 2016 from being stung in the chest by a stingray.

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  • Safety lapses found at the former Underwater World Singapore did not directly lead to diver Philip Chan’s death in 2016
  • The court heard that the lapses include having inadequate recovery procedures during an emergency
  • Chan was trying to capture a leopard whiptail ray when it stung him in the chest
  • A judge noted that Chan’s expertise was “not a substitute for properly considered risk assessments and safe work procedures”

 

SINGAPORE — The now-defunct attraction Underwater World Singapore was fined S$105,000 on Tuesday (March 23) over four safety breaches that were uncovered following a veteran diver’s death in 2016.

Philip Chan, then aged 62, had died from being stung in the chest by a stingray. 

A representative from Underwater World admitted earlier this year to one count of failing to ensure the safety and health of its employees. This included not providing adequate recovery procedures in an emergency during diving operations.

The representative’s lawyers, led by Mr Ian Lim from TSMP Law Corporation, said that their client would pay the fine and asked for a few days to do so, in light of the large sum.

The safety lapses did not directly lead to Chan’s demise, which a coroner had ruled a tragic misadventure in 2017.

Back in June 2016, the oceanarium run by Haw Par Corporation announced that it was closing and it was starting to transfer its marine animals at its Sentosa Island premises to new facilities.

On Oct 4 that year, Chan and five of his colleagues were trying to capture a leopard whiptail ray in its reef tank after successfully guiding three others to a holding area. 

Chan dived into the tank to usher the stingray up to a shallow platform. It then struck him in the chest with its 22.5cm-long barb. 

Chan, who was the senior supervisor of the attraction’s curatorial department, collapsed and eventually died from his injuries in the Singapore General Hospital.

EXPERTISE ‘NOT A SUBSTITUTE’ FOR SAFETY MEASURES

In 2017, then-State Coroner Marvin Bay said in his inquiry findings that the case showed that an animal handler’s expertise, skill and experience would not “invariably insulate” one from animal-inflicted harm.

The court earlier heard that Underwater World Singapore did not establish a risk assessment and safe work procedures for the capturing of marine animals.

What its standard operating procedures covered were other work activities such as scuba-diving works for tank-cleaning and the feeding of marine animals.

It relied on Chan, who had 25 years of experience at the company, to brief his co-workers on the foreseeable risks such as bodily injuries, and other issues such as capturing methods that he devised.

The safe work procedures it implemented for diving-related works were also found to be inadequate.

These did not address supervision of diving works, as well as the maintaining of a proper lookout and communication with the diver. These measures were necessary on the day of Chan’s accident, the court heard.

There were other lapses such as:

  • No one was assigned to look out for divers who had to perform vacuuming works in tanks by themselves

  • There were no proper communication channels between divers and workers at the surface during feeding sessions

  • There was no standby diver appointed in the case of a diving emergency

  • There was no system for pre-diving equipment checks

If a diver fell unconscious in the water, for example, the buddy diver would not pick up on this immediately because there was no line of sight or any form of lifeline provided, the court heard.

In sentencing the company, District Judge Adam Nakhoda found that the breaches were fundamental and that while Chan was an expert, his expertise was “not a substitute for properly considered risk assessments and safe work procedures”.

Given that the work was carried out underwater, the judge added that it struck him as essential that detailed recovery processes were implemented, such as a standby diver who could act immediately.

Nevertheless, he noted that Underwater World had put in place other safety measures.

The firm could have been fined up to S$500,000 under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

Related topics

Underwater World death diver safety workplace stingray

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