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Negligent supervisor's jail term increased for work site death

Negligent supervisor's jail term increased for work site death

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 21 May 2020
Author: Selina Lum

Mao Xuezhong had instructed two workers to descend from the fifth floor of a building onto a structure called a table form. One worker fell when the table form tilted.

Photo credit: Court documents

A work site supervisor, whose negligence in ensuring that the safety harnesses of his workers were anchored resulted in a fatality, had his jail term increased yesterday from 24 weeks to a year.

The sentence was raised after an appeal by the prosecution to a three-judge High Court panel, which also issued new sentencing guidelines for such offences under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

Mao Xuezhong, 49, had instructed two workers, who were on the fifth floor of a building under construction, to descend onto a structure known as a table form that was being lifted from the fourth floor.

While both workers wore safety harnesses, only one of them anchored his before descending onto the table form, which was 6m long, 3.6m wide and 4.8m tall.

The other worker, Mr Mastagir Rana (Sohal) Md Aminur Rahman, 25, slid off the table form when it suddenly tilted. The Bangladeshi national fell onto a ramp on the third floor and succumbed to his injuries in hospital four days later.

The accident took place in January 2014 at a work site in Henderson Road.

Mao, a Chinese national, was charged only in September 2017 with performing a negligent act by instructing the two workers to descend onto the table form when it was unsafe to do so, and failing to ensure that Mr Sohal had anchored his safety harness before descending.

The offence carries a maximum fine of $30,000 and a maximum jail term of two years.

The surviving worker, Mr Alam Khan, testified that he had asked Mao for a lifeline to secure his harness, but the supervisor did not say anything.

Mr Khan said he did not dare to anger Mao by asking a second time, so on his own initiative, he anchored his harness to a guard rail at the edge of the fifth floor.

He said Mr Sohal did not listen to his advice to do the same.

The district judge accepted Mr Khan's version of events and sentenced Mao to 24 weeks' jail, based on a sentencing framework set out by the High Court in a previous case.

Mao appealed against his conviction and sentence while the prosecution appealed against the sentence. The prosecution also called for the framework to be reconsidered.

Yesterday, the three-judge court dismissed Mao's appeal and found that he was negligent.

As for the sentence, the court made several objections in principle to the previous framework, which treated fines and imprisonment as interchangeable.

Instead, the court set out a sentencing matrix to determine an indicative starting point based on the level of harm and the level of culpability.

The starting point for a case with low harm and low culpability would be a fine of up to $15,000, and for a case with high harm and high culpability, between a year's jail and two years' jail.

The court said there was a high degree of harm and culpability in Mao's case, and a one-year jail term was appropriate.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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