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Contractor, supplier jointly at fault in crane accident

The court ruled that both the crane supplier and the contractor owed a duty of care to quality control manager Lum Hon Ying, who was badly injured in the accident, and structural engineer Lim Boon Tiong, who died.

SINGAPORE: The fault for a tower crane’s wire rope snapping, sending a 500kg load crashing onto a container site office in a 2009 accident that killed one and severely injured another, lies equally with the crane supplier and the contractor operating it that day, a High Court has ruled.

Buildmart Industries, which leased out the tower crane for the Sui Generis condominium project at Balmoral Crescent, had failed to properly install, as well as maintain, the wire rope, said Justice Tay Yong Kwang.

But the project’s main contractor, Chiu Teng Enterprises, which employed staff to operate the crane, was negligent in the lifting operation, the judge added.

The two firms are being sued by quality control manager Lum Hon Ying, who was badly injured in the accident, and the administrator of the estate of structural engineer Lim Boon Tiong, who died. The two men were having a meeting in the container site office that day.

In his judgment that was made public on Tuesday (July 22), Justice Tay said Chiu Teng and Buildmart owed a duty of care to the two men, who were lawfully at the work site on Sept 29, 2009.

Buildmart had contended that it should not bear any liability, arguing that the wire rope that snapped that day was brand new, and that the cause of the rope’s failure was a mystery.

But the judge ruled that Buildmart’s failure to properly maintain the wire rope of the tower crane could not be disputed, falling “dismally short” of the recommendations made in the manufacturer’s operating manual.

Instead of lubricating the rope at least once every 200 hours of operation, Buildmart had lubricated it only thrice for about 2,000 hours of operation, or about once every 660 hours of operation.

A report commissioned by the Ministry of Manpower before it brought criminal proceedings against the company had included lack of lubrication as a contributing factor to the wire rope’s failure. It also concluded that the wire rope was not properly seized and this was one of the reasons it failed.

Buildmart was fined S$8,000 in the criminal case for breaching workplace safety and health regulations by failing to ensure its wire rope was properly maintained.

As for Chiu Teng, Justice Tay said it was negligent in the lifting operation.

It was the duty of its crane operator to ensure a suspended load was not moved over anyone in the worksite and its lifting supervisor failed to ensure that nobody was inside the site office before beginning the lifting operation.

“All the circumstances showed that the operation that morning was a highly hazardous one and much more care and thought ought to have gone into it,” the judge wrote, ordering Chiu Teng and Buildmart to each bear half the liability.

The damages to be paid by the two companies will be assessed by a High Court Registrar.

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