Painter is Singapore's First 2023 Workplace Death


In early January, a painter coating the exterior facade at the Waterfront Isle condominium in Singapore fell four stories from one of the structure’s concrete ledges to his death. According to reports, the 37-year-old painter is the country’s first workplace death in 2023.

While no foul play has been suspected in the fatal incident, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has launched an investigation.

What Happened

Initial details published by reporters at The Strait Times shared that the fatal incident took place around 3:50 p.m. on Jan. 12. At the time, the unnamed victim was paired with another worker. Both were noted to be employed by ISOTeam C&P—a subsidiary of building maintenance firm ISOTeam—and were working from a gondola.

Despite wearing personal protective equipment, both workers reportedly climbed out of the gondola to paint parts of the exterior wall that were out of reach. Unsecured to the gondola, the now-deceased painter fell from a concrete ledge while trying to complete coatings work.

Singapore Civil Defence Force and police were alerted about the incident around 4:20 p.m. Upon announcing the painter dead on the scene, the police and MOM launched an investigation into what happened. At the time, MOM also instructed the ISOTeam C&P to stop using the gondola and to cease all at-heights work activities at the condominium.

As a result of the accident and poor risk controls, ISOTeam has also been barred from hiring new foreign workers for three months. The decision is part of MOM’s previously imposed six-month heightened safety period that launched in September 2022 and will run through the end of February.

ISOTeam C&P’s Managing Director Sam Chen has also been instructed to account to MOM for the lapses and is responsible for acquiring the company’s recertifications.

“MOM will not hesitate to prosecute those responsible if wrongdoing is found,” a spokesman said.

Investigation Findings, Industry Safety Efforts

Several days after the incident was reported, The Strait Times confirmed that the deceased worker had failed to anchor his harness to the gondola. Instead of remaining in the gondola to complete coatings applications, the worker was reported to have stepped out onto the third floor, where he then climbed over the parapet and used the stairs to the fourth floor.

According to reports, when working in a gondola, workers are advised to wear a safety harness properly anchored to the platform. This precaution is meant to serve as an independent vertical lifeline.

Once there, the victim climbed onto the open concrete ledge where he would eventually fall, the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council reported.

As a result of the tragedy that could have been prevented had safety regulations been properly followed, the Council called on all companies involved in painting or cleaning facades to urgently assess their safety measures to prevent falls from height.

In addition, WSH advised that companies should instruct workers never to climb in or out of a gondola unless it is at rest, on the ground, or at a level that allows safe entry or exit. WSH also asked that companies confirm with building occupiers or principals that all structure ledges are load-bearing and able to support the weight of workers and their equipment.

Furthermore, it is also a good practice to check for fragile surfaces and openings on the ledge and install edge protection where height is concerning. If this extra measure is not possible, WSH suggests implementing a fall prevention plan. Workers should also be instructed to seek permission for all work at heights projects where they could fall more than three meters (about nine feet).

A final reminder issued by WSH at the time, and always, is to hire workers who have received adequate training for working at heights and ensure that company management is checking that all contractors are properly implementing safety measures.

Other Recent Accident

Back in May 2021, Hoon Choo Han worked as a contractor for Tamagawa Tech to paint the interior and exterior walls of a private residence. According to reports, work was slated to be completed by mid-March of this year.

Over the course of the project, Coroner Sharmila Sripathy-Shanaz wrote in her report of the incident that prior to Hoon’s work-related death, the individual had previously been seen standing on house ledges, either painting or inspecting the external facade, without a safety harness or any protective equipment.

Although Tamagawa had conducted a risk assessment for painting and specifically cited a “fall from height” hazard, Hoon was seen to be working independently and unsupervised.

Following the fatality, MOM launched an investigation, finding that Tamagawa did not tell Hoon to do any touch-up painting work on the reinforced concrete ledges. According to the contractor, all external scaffolding had been dismantled in August 2021. The company further shared that to their knowledge, all external painting work had been completed at that time.

On the day of the incident, the coroner noted in her report that while Hoon had not informed anyone on the job site about his plans to conduct painting touch-ups, he was seen around 11 a.m. on the morning of March 2 painting the external facade while standing on the second-floor ledge. A few hours later, he was seen again in the living room of the residence.

Shortly after 2 p.m. on the same day, another worker heard a loud thud and found Hoon outside, having fallen from the concrete ledge. An ambulance was called shortly after and Hoon was taken to Changi General Hospital. Three days later, Hoon succumbed to his injuries and passed away from multiple skull and facial fractures.

Following his death, the Workplace Safety and Health Council issued an accident notification reminding industry stakeholders to:

  • Use a proper work platform for workers to work safely at heights;
  • Use a travel restraint system to prevent workers from working too close to open sides if it is not possible to use a work platform;
  • Provide each worker with a personal fall arrest system with a secure anchor point, if work near an open side is done;
  • Develop safe work procedures for the task and provide supervision to ensure workers are following the same;
  • Implement a permit-to-work system for any work where a person could fall more than 3 meters; and
  • Provide and ensure workers put on the correct footwear, such as safety shoes with non-slip soles.

MOM is also contemplating enforcement action against the parties involved, the coroner added.

US Top Violations

In an e-newsletter, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently revealed its annual top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety standards for fiscal year 2022. The list was presented exclusively with the National Safety Council during the 2022 NSC Safety Congress & Expo.

Fall Protection – General Requirements remained at the top of the list for the 12th year in a row, followed by Hazard Communication and Respiratory Protection. OSHA’s fiscal year officially ended on Sept. 30.

“OSHA’s annual Top 10 list helps define trends so safety professionals can find the appropriate solutions,” said Lorraine Martin, NSC President and CEO. “Despite advancements in workplace safety, we continue to see the same types of violations each year. It’s more important than ever employers seek education and resources to keep their workers safe.”

The Top 10 most frequently cited standards for FY 2022 are:

  1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501): 5,980 violations;
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200): 2,682;
  3. Ladders (1926.1053): 2,471;
  4. Respiratory Protection (1910.134): 2,430;
  5. Scaffolding (1926.451): 2,285;
  6. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147): 2,175;
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178): 1,922;
  8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503): 1,778;
  9. Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment – Eye and Face Protection (1926.102): 1,582;
  10. Machine Guarding (1910.212): 1,488.

A more detailed analysis of the Top 10 violations for 2022 is scheduled to be published in the December edition of Safety+Health magazine, a National Safety Council publication.


Tagged categories: Accidents; AS; China; Fall protection; Fatalities; Hazards; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Painters; Personal protective equipment; Safety

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