SINGAPORE — A food stall owner who tasked an untrained maid with using an electric meat grinder to grind chilli was jailed for two weeks and fined $19,000 on Friday (8 October) after the maid ended up having four fingers severed by the grinder.
Lim Sheng Song, 58, who operated Xin Ji, a wonton hawker stall, had not briefed his maid from Myanmar Su Su Mar on safety precautions to take when operating the grinder.
The grinder was also missing safety implements. Among them was a plastic hook that could prevent a user’s hand from reaching into the mincing component of the grinder but the hook had been thrown away as it was broken. It had also come with a push tool for a user to push the mix into the mincing component, but Su Su Mar was provided with a butter knife to push the chilli mix into the grinder.
On 31 January 2019, at about 2am in the morning, Su Su Mar started work with the grinder and pushed a mixture of ingredients into the mincing component with the butter knife. However, the knife slipped into the opening of the grinder and Su Su Mar immediately tried to retrieve it. She stuck her hand into the opening of the grinder without switching it off.
The blade in the grinder severed four of her fingers. She was conveyed to Singapore General Hospital, but four of her fingers were amputated.
Lim earlier pleaded guilty to one charge under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for failing to take reasonable steps to ensure Su Su Mar’s safety at work, resulting in the amputation of her four fingers. He also pleaded guilty to two charges under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, for employing Su Su Mar and another helper Filipina Peralta Maricris Aquino without valid work passes to work for the hawker business.
Apart from these charges, which were tendered by the Ministry of Manpower, Lim also admitted to a count of failing to register an employee who handled food preparation and a count of preparing food in unlicensed premises. Both charges were tendered by the Singapore Food Agency.
One charge of employing another foreign employee as a kitchen assistant for Xin Ji without a valid work pass was considered for Lim’s sentencing.
Su Su Mar began working at Lim’s residence from November 2017. She was tasked to do household chores and also preparation work for Lim’s hawker stall as a kitchen assistant. These included preparing ingredients for the wonton dumplings, such as steaming and cutting pork, wrapping the dumplings and grinding chilli for the chilli sauce.
Su Su Mar did the preparation work for the hawker stall from 2am to 7pm daily, except for Wednesday. The maid would also spend an additional 30 minutes to an hour per day to do household chores at the residence. She was given a rest break from 7am to 9.30am and paid $600 monthly, inclusive of her off-day compensation but did not get additional money for assisting in the business.
Lim had failed to develop safe work procedures for Su Su Mar, including ensuring that the grinder was safe for her to use, providing her with adequate instruction and training, and conducting a risk assessment for her.
Lim’s lawyer, Sarbrinder Singh from Sanders Law, told the court that immediately after the accident on 31 January 2019, Lim had brought Su Su Mar to seek medical treatment and paid for her medical bill of $71,481.69. The family also negotiated for compensation for the maid from a maid insurance policy taken out for her. Su Su Mar received $24,000 in compensation from her insurance.
The family also paid $21,000 out of their own pocket for Su Su Mar’s compensation.
In sentencing Lim, District Judge Toh Han Li said, “In my view, had the accused properly instructed and supervised the victim on the use the plastic hoop and the push tool, this unfortunate accident could have been avoided.”
He added that he did not agree with the Singh’s assertion that Su Su Mar should have known better than to insert her fingers into the meat grinder when it was in operation, when the maid was not given the proper training, supervision and tools in the first place.
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