Ng Lim Lian & Anor v Port of Singapore Authority

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeC R Rajah JC
Judgment Date14 March 1997
Neutral Citation[1997] SGHC 62
Citation[1997] SGHC 62
Published date29 March 2007
Plaintiff CounselLiew Teck Huat with Chua Hwee Ping (Niru & Co.)
Defendant CounselAndre Maniam with Edwin Lee (Wong Partnership)

Judgment:

1. The Plaintiffs are the Administratrix and Co- Administrator of the Estate of Ong Chin Whatt (Deceased). The Deceased was employed by the Defendants as a senior traffic assistant at the Defendants' container port terminal at Tanjong Pagar. As such his duties included co-ordinating and guiding the movement of transtainers and other vehicles within the terminal. He was 41 years old, experienced at his job, had 6 traffic assistants under his supervision and had been promoted from traffic assistant to senior traffic assistant some 3 months prior to his death.

2. On 31/10/90 at about 5:00 p.m. the Deceased was on a bicycle and directing Transtainer No. 50 (TT50) at the Tanjong Pagar container port terminal when he was crushed by one of TT50's wheels and killed. TT50 was being driven by a Container Machiner Operator ( CMO ) with the surname Chin.

Chin was also an employee of the Defendants. The Plaintiffs claim that the accident was caused by Chin's negligent driving of TT50 and by the negligence of Defendants in failing to provide a safe system of work and/or safe equipment. The Plaintiffs therefore claim damages against the Defendants as being liable for the Defendants' own negligence and vicariously for Chin's negligence. The Defendants say neither they nor Chin were negligent and that the accident was caused by the Deceased's own negligence. They therefore deny any liability. Even if they were negligent, they say there was some contributory negligence on the Deceased's part.

3. A transtainer is a massive motorised vehicle standing some 20 metres tall, 22 metres long and 7 metres wide. It combines the functions of a crane and a truck in that it lifts, transports and stacks containers within the container port terminal. It is rectangular in shape and stands on 4 long steel legs each mounted on a rubber-tyred wheel some 6 feet in diameter. All four legs are joined near the top of the transtainer to a steel frame. High up between one pair of the legs 7 metres apart is the operator's cabin. The transtainer's engine is located between the lower half of the other pair of legs. The lifting mechanism or spreader is located below the level of the operator's cabin. The spreader can be raised and lowered to operate from different heights.

Both the cabin and the spreader can be trolleyed (i.e. moved) between the legs of the transtainer. To move a container, the transtainer is first manoeuvred to straddle the container. The spreader is then trolleyed to a position above the container and the container is then lifted. The transtainer is then moved with the lifted container to straddle the point of delivery onto which the container is then lowered and deposited.

4. Containers are stacked in the terminal in designated rectangular areas called Blocks. Blocks are arranged in a grid formation and are separated from each other by a criss- cross network of thoroughfares or alleyways. When a transtainer moves a container from one point to another in the same Block, it would move to straddle the Block between its legs until it reaches a suitable position along the Block for the spreader to lift the container. The transtainer then moves along the Block, still straddling it until it reaches a suitable position from which to deposit container further along the Block. This movement of the transtainer up and down a Block is called linear gantry.

5. When a transtainer moves from one Block to another, the movement is called cross gantry and entails the transtainer having to cross at least one thoroughfare. To effect cross gantry, the transtainer must first do linear gantry to the end of the Block (say Block X), then continue in the same direction until it no longer straddles Block X and is in the middle of the thoroughfare. If the Block it is heading for (say Block Y) is in line with Block X it just continues in the same direction across the thoroughfare until it reaches Block Y. But if Block Y is not in line, the transtainer must stop in the middle of the thoroughfare. Its wheels are then turned and the transtainer then moves along the thoroughfare heading towards the line of Block Y. The transtainer is now travelling at right angles to when it was doing linear gantry. When it is in line with Block Y, it stops and then commences linear gantry to end up straddling Block Y. During this second linear gantry the transtainer will be moving parallel to the first linear gantry. Transtainers at work therefore generally move in straight lines which are either parallel or at right angles to one other.

6. Transtainers are operated by CMOs. The size and shape of the transtainer and the presence of the spreader below the CMO's cabin, results in some obstruction to the CMO's areas of vision despite the fact that the cabin and the spreader can be trolleyed. Whatever position the CMO's cabin is moved to there would still be blind spots i.e. areas in a transtainer's movement path that would not be visible to the CMO. This increased the risk of a transtainer running into someone or something whilst on the move. To reduce this risk the following measures, inter alia, were taken:-

(a) Each transtainer leg was fitted with a siren and a warning (i.e. flashing) light some 5 or 6 metres from the ground. It was the CMO's duty to check that all the sirens and lights were working before the transtainer was used for any operation and to turn them all on before commencing and during linear and cross gantry. This would warn that the transtainer was on the move.

(b) Each transtainer wheel was fitted with both an outer and an inner wheel-guard. Again it was the duty of the CMO to ensure that all wheel- guards were on before operating the transtainer. When a transtainer is moving a wheel-guard has a pushing away effect if it runs into something whereas an unguarded revolving wheel tends to sweep under and crush. Wheel guards therefore reduced the risk of being run over and crushed.

(c) The wheel paths or gantry lanes for transtainers were marked on the ground and all transtainers were to move only along those marked gantry lanes.

(d) Traffic assistants would direct the CMO from the ground by UHF radio transmission whenever a transtainer had to linear gantry or cross gantry. In carrying out these duties the traffic assistants would have to move from point to point on the ground around the transtainer, stop cross traffic and ensure a clear path for the transtainer. More often than not they moved around on bicycles.

7. Despite these measures, on 8/1/90, almost 9 months prior to the accident that killed the Deceased, there was an earlier fatal accident. Here too a transtainer knocked down and crushed under its wheel a traffic assistant who was on a bicycle. He was on the gantry path when he was knocked down and killed. He was not, however, directing the transtainer that killed him. The Defendants conducted an inquiry into that accident which arrived at, inter alia, the following findings:-

(a) There was no established procedure as to how a traffic assistant should carry out a cross gantry. Each was left to adopt the procedure he thought best.

(b) The wheel that knocked down and ran over the traffic assistant did not have a wheel guard.

(c) Because of the 5 to 6 metre height at which the warning lights were fixed they did not serve to warn persons near the transtainer leg.

(d) As sirens were regularly being sounded in the container yard and all the various sirens sounded the same, sirens were not attracting the attention of those working there.

8. In the light of these findings, that inquiry committee then made the following recommendations, inter alia:-

(a) The warning lights should be fitted lower down on each transtainer leg so as to be more visible to persons close to the transtainer wheel.

(b) The sound of the transtainer sirens should be varied. The sirens would then be more likely to catch the attention of the workers in the container port terminal.

(c) A circular should be issued to workers to warn them of the danger of standing on the gantry path.

(d) Bicycles should be phased out and replaced by 4-wheel vehicles as the mode of transport for traffic assistants when directing the movement of transtainers.

9. Following this enquiry, the Defendants issued on 18/7/90 guidelines on the procedure and positions that senior traffic assistants and traffic assistants (collectively called traffic squad ) and CMOs should adopt during cross gantry. These guidelines required, inter alia, as follows:-

(a) The CMO must request for traffic squad guidance from the ground.

(b) When the CMO has completed linear gantry to the end of a Block, he must stop and wait for instructions from the traffic squad before he moves the transtainer onto the thoroughfare.

(c) The traffic squad should position himself at the spot marked A in the diagram annexed to the guidelines and stop traffic along the thoroughfare. A is in the middle of the thoroughfare and directly in front of the transtainer .

(d) After stopping the traffic, the traffic squad should instruct the CMO to move the transtainer out from the Block onto the thoroughfare. The CMO should then move the transtainer to the middle of the thoroughfare so that each wheel is standing at a point of intersection between the linear gantry and cross gantry lanes. Point A where the traffic squad is standing would now be directly under the transtainer i.e. in the middle of the area straddled by the transtainer.

(e) The traffic squad should then to move from point A to point B marked on the diagram. B is to the front and left of the transtainer in the direction in which it is to cross gantry and in the middle of the first cross- thoroughfare. From this position the traffic squad is to stop cross traffic moving along the first thoroughfare running across the transtainer's cross gantry path. I find that to reach point B from A , the traffic squad has therefore to cross the left cross gantry lane and would be expected to do so either...

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