Director’s Liability for Workplace Safety

Incisive Law WSHA

Personal liability for the managing director in addition to sanction of the company, for breach of Workplace Safety and Health Act (“WSHA”).

In a press release dated 19 May 2017, the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) announced that both TGG Pte Ltd (a main subcontractor carrying out reinforced concrete structural works and mechanical and electrical works) and TGG’s managing director (“MD”) have been fined for breach of the WSHA resulting in the death of one of their workers. TGG was fined S$270,000 while its MD was fined S$40,000.

At the time of the accident, formwork dismantling on the 38th storey and catch platform dismantling on the 31st storey were taking place concurrently. When a worker at the 38th storey attempted to lift a formwork frame by himself and fell, the frame dropped and struck an adjustable base plate which then fell into the lift shaft and struck the worker on 31st storey. The latter worker succumbed to his injuries.

MOM’s investigations revealed the following failures on TGG’s part:

1. Untrained workers for the formwork dismantling;

2. Risk assessment (“RA”) and safe work procedure (“SWP”) for formwork dismantling not disseminated to those carrying out the works and safety measures identified not taken;

3. No RA and SWP for catch platform dismantling at the 31st storey;

4. Failed to properly coordinate works and ensure that safety netting was installed; and

5. Failed to address the risk of falling from height.

TGG was charged under section 12(1) read with section 20 of the WSHA for failing in its duty as an employer to take, so far as was reasonably practicable, measures that were necessary to ensure the safety and health of its employees at work.

TGG’s MD Mr. Kwek was charged under section 48(1)(b) read with section 12(1) and section 20 of the WSHA, for failing in his duty as the MD of TGG to exercise all such diligence to prevent the commission of the offence by TGG.

Take-away: 

Senior management responsible for having oversight of the day to day operations and business of the company should be alerted to the fact that they too can be sanctioned for breaches pertaining to the workplace safety. At the end of the day, for there to be a “workplace safety culture”, the people running the business will have to instil their safety-first attitudes, behaviours and mindsets throughout the organisation.

Will terms be implied by the Singapore Courts into written employment contracts?

Notwithstanding the general position that an employee’s terms of employment is to be construed by reference to the express terms of the employment contract read with the Employment Act (as the case may be), the Singapore Courts have implied certain terms into employment contracts. Two examples of this:-

Employers:

Unless there were express terms to the contrary or the context implied otherwise, an employer owes the employer a duty, implied in law, not to undermine or destroy mutual trust and confidence. This duty includes the requirement to act honestly and faithfully, to redress complaints of discrimination or provide a grievance procedure, not to unilaterally and unreasonably vary employment terms, and not to suspend an employee for disciplinary purposes without proper and reasonable care; but is not to be confused with a duty of good faith. Breach of this implied term could be repudiatory in this case and the employee’s subsequent resignation may be deemed a constructive dismissal.

Employees:

An implied duty to exercise reasonable skill and knowledge, care and diligence in the course of carrying out their work.