Company partly liable for injury of Bangladeshi worker whose arm was crushed by machine

FILE PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore

A 43-year-old Bangladeshi national working for a recycling company had his right arm nearly amputated by a machine while on duty, the High Court heard.

Alam Jahangir had to undergo an arm reattachment procedure and was hospitalised for two-and-a-half months.

He sued his employer, Mega Metal, which collects drink cans for recycling, for damages for his injury.

Last Monday (17 September), Justice Choo Han Teck found the employer liable for 50 per cent of the accident-related medical expenses and medical leave wages to be paid to Alam.

In the grounds of decision released on Monday (24 September), the judge said he found Alam partly responsible as his action was almost reckless.

Said Justice Choo, “An employer’s duty to keep the workplace safe is a duty that is intended for the careful worker, (and) it must contemplate dangers that lay in wait for the careless ones as well, but if a worker injures himself through his own carelessness, he must bear some responsibility for the mishap.”

On 16 May 2016, at about 11.20am, Alam was operating a machine which separates waste metal cans made out of aluminium from those made of other metals.

The machine uses a conveyor belt and a magnetised drum to separate the non-aluminium cans from the aluminium ones. But cans would sometimes get stuck in the machine rollers.

When two cans got stuck while he was operating the machine, Alam tried to dislodge them with the end of a broom but he could only dislodge one can.

He then reached into the space between the rollers with his right arm and tried to dislodge the other can. But his arm was caught by the rollers and pulled along.

Alam’s colleagues heard his calls for help and turned off the machine.

He was sent to hospital with a crush injury to his right arm, which was nearly amputated. The bone in the upper arm was also broken.

Alam underwent arm reattachment and was discharged from hospital on 5 August 2016. He had another surgery on his right wrist on 19 October 2016.

In his suit, Alam claimed the accident happened because of a breach of his employer’s duty of care. Mega Metal ought to have taken steps to make the machine safer such as setting up a wire mesh fence to prevent access to parts of the machine and implementing an emergency stop device.

Mega Metal claimed it did not breach its duty as the space between the rollers of the machine was not such a dangerous part of the machine that it needed to be fenced up. Workers would also not normally come into contact with that part of the machine while operating it.

Such a fencing was also unnecessary as the machine’s power switch was near an operator on duty, it claimed.

Alam’s attempt to dislodge the stuck can with his bare arm posed significant risk of injury that could have been avoided, it added.

Mega Metal asked that if it were found to have been derelict in its duty, it should only pay about 10 per cent of total damages.

On his part, Alam asked that he assume 10 per cent liability if he were found to be partly negligent.

He claimed that he was not properly trained to operate the machine, and that he was following a common practice used by his colleagues to dislodge stuck cans while the machine was running.

Justice Choo said the company is liable for breaching its duty of care as it didn’t have sufficient fencing to stop workers from reaching into the rollers. But the worker was partly responsible for his injury, Justice Choo added. 

“When he found a metal can stuck in the rollers, he did not stop the machine. Instead, he stuck his hand between the running rollers in an effort to dislodge the can. This was an act of negligence bordering on recklessness.”

No assessment of damages has been made yet.

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