Manager fined $1,900 over death of 2 female workers in separate accidents in factory

The palletiser machine at the accident scene (PHOTO: Ministry of Manpower)
The palletiser machine at the accident scene (PHOTO: Ministry of Manpower)

SINGAPORE — A manager was fined $1,900 on Thursday (16 July) over separate accidents that caused the death of two female employees at a factory in 2016.

Hew Poh Leong, 48, worked for M.C.Packaging, a maker of folding cartons and carriers.

The firm, located at 159 Gul Circle, was also charged on Thursday with two counts of failing to take measures to ensure the safety and health of its employees, resulting in the death of the women.

Chinese national Wang Meifang, 33, died on 16 June 2016 while cleaning a milk powder tin can palletiser. Singaporean See Ley Heo, 53, died after being struck by a reversing forklift while crossing the factory’s production floor on 26 December 2016.

Hew admitted to two charges, one of failing to co-operate with M.C. Packaging by failing to escalate a traffic management plan to the firm for full implementation and one of failing to ensure the implementation of the firm’s safe work procedures. All charges faced by the firm and Hew were under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

The Ministry of Manpower said in a press release on Thursday that the families of both deceased workers have since received $200,000 in compensation from the work injury insurer under the Work Injury Compensation Act.

Details of accidents

The court heard on Thursday that Wang had been tasked to clean and sanitise the interior parts of the palletiser, which is a machine that stacks cases of goods onto a pallet. She was given the responsibility along with co-worker Chooi Fam Kim.

While Wang cleaned the second level of the machine, Chooi took charge of the ground level, using a compressed air gun to blow out dust from the machine’s component. Unbeknownst to Chooi, her use of the compressed air gun caused the pressure to build up, causing a machine part to move upwards into a lock position, trapping Wang’s upper body between two frames.

After using the gun, Chooi moved away to sweep the production area when she heard a scream from Wang. She found Wang at the platform of the palletiser prone and bleeding from the nose. She alerted the company through an emergency button.

Wang was extricated and conveyed to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital where she died from her injuries.

Both Wang and Chooi had been working unsupervised as their supervisor and Hew reported to work only after the palletisers were cleaned, hence they did not see the workers climbing into the palletisers.

Likewise, safety inspections by external safety consultants were ineffective as they occurred after the machines were cleaned.

While Hew had approved risk assessment steps for work activities involving the palletisers, these were inadequate as they did not address the risk of individuals being caught in between moving parts should the machine move during cleaning.

He also failed to ensure that his workers were aware of safe work procedures established by the company, which forbade workers from climbing into the palletisers for sanitisation works.

Similarly, he did not ensure oversight of the workers despite knowing that the supervisors only started work two hours after the workers.

Months later, another accident occured at the factory, this time involving a forklift operated by an employee, Subramaniam Suppaiyya.

The accident scene involving the forklift at M C Packaging's production area. (PHOTO: Ministry of Manpower)
The accident scene involving the forklift at M C Packaging's production area. (PHOTO: Ministry of Manpower)

On 26 December 2016, at about 11.30am, as See was walking across the production floor, she was struck by the reversing forklift. She was conveyed to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital where she died from a head injury.

Investigations found that M. C. Packaging failed to implement appropriate risk assessment and safe work procedures for forklift related works, or a traffic management plan within the factory.

The company had at least four forklift accidents prior to the two fatal cases. In January and March 2015, a forklift, also driven by Subramaniam, had hit a worker on her ankle. In December 2015, a worker was caught in between a lorry and a number of pallets, while in January 2016, a worker fell after being hit by a forklift.

Hew had approved the traffic management plan by another employee but had not brought the implementation of the full plan to the company’s top management, as he believed that it would not be fully approved.

The case for M. C. Packaging will be heard again on 13 August.

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