Gaughan v Straits Instrumentation Pte Ltd and Another

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeJudith Prakash J
Judgment Date28 February 2000
Neutral Citation[2000] SGHC 28
Citation[2000] SGHC 28
Subject MatterNegligence,Employees’ duties,Tort,Duty to provide sufficient instructions on parameters of job,Duty to devise safe system of work for performance of work done by independent contractors,Extent of duty,Whether such act outside course of supervisor's employment,Whether plaintiff's injuries caused by negligence of first defendants' workers,Whether employee acted within course of his employment,Employers’ duties,Employee-supervisor assisting persons being supervised,Whether supervisor under obligation to assist,Employment Law,Whether employers liable for breach of duty
Defendant CounselDavid Khong (Wendy Wong & Partners),Muthu Arusu (Allen & Gledhill)
Date28 February 2000
Plaintiff CounselLisa Sam (Donaldson & Burkinshaw)
Published date19 September 2003
Docket NumberSuit No 419 of 1999

: Synopsis

The second defendants are a ship owning and operating company incorporated in the United Kingdom. The plaintiff entered their employ in 1982 as a junior radio officer. By 1996, the plaintiff had attained the rank of second officer (radio) and in April 1996, the second defendants assigned him to take up this position aboard their vessel `Cardigan Bay`.

In May 1996, the vessel was dry-docked at Sembawang Shipyard Ltd, Singapore, for the purpose of modifying the main mast in order to qualify the vessel to undertake the American trade. The main contractors for the works were Sembawang Shipyard Ltd (`Sembawang`) and they in turn employed the first defendants, another Singapore company, as sub-contractors to carry out various portions of the works.

The works included the removal of all aerials, lighting and equipment (including the radar) from the main mast, the subsequent modification of that mast and the re-siting and re-fitting of the objects removed onto the modified mast. The plaintiff had been asked by the second defendants` superintendent, Mr Alan Turtle, to `oversee` the mast modifications. His job was to ensure that the equipment was not damaged by the first defendants in the course of removal or re-siting.

One of the items which had to be taken off the mast was a radar antenna. This work was undertaken on 27 May 1996. The first stage of the work was the removal of the nuts and bolts of the antenna. This was done by two of the first defendants` workers, Lim and Letchumanan (`Letchu`). They then attached strops to the antenna and attached it to a dock-side crane. The plaintiff provided a guide rope for the lowering operation and directions to the shore crane were given by the first defendants` foreman, one Ramasamy (also known as Raja), who was at the starboard bridge wing.

The radar antenna was lowered onto the starboard bridge wing by the crane. It then had to be moved into the wheelhouse for storage while the mast modification works were undertaken. It was a long narrow piece of equipment but heavy, weighing approximately 186 kg. Its heaviest portion was the middle where the motor was attached.

The only way of moving the antenna into the wheelhouse was to physically carry it in. It was generally agreed that four men were needed for this job. The plaintiff`s story is that the first defendants had only three workers available at the time and that he stood in as the fourth man and assisted them in the lift. He also directed the operation. It took two lifts to get the antenna into the wheelhouse. At the end of the second lift, the antenna was placed next to the chart table. The plaintiff then initiated a third lift in order to reposition the antenna slightly. According to him, on this final lift, two of the first defendants` workers failed to lift or take any of the weight. Upon lowering the equipment back to the deck, the plaintiff felt a severe pain in his lower back.

The plaintiff`s pain continued over the next few days. On 1 June 1996, he visited the shipyard clinic and was given some painkillers and a deep heat rub by the doctor in charge. The plaintiff continued to work on board the vessel throughout the period that it remained in dry-dock and during its post dry-dock voyage to New York. This was despite his severe back pain, discomfort and worsening sciatic pain from the time of the accident. On 5 August 1996, the plaintiff left the ship and was flown home to the United Kingdom from New York.

The day after he arrived home, the plaintiff saw his general practitioner who thought he was suffering from a hamstring pain. The pain persisted, however, and on 23 August 1996, the plaintiff was declared unfit for duty. Subsequently, he was referred for physiotherapy. The physiotherapy started in October 1996 but did not relieve the plaintiff`s pain. In November and December 1996, he was given lumbar epidural injections. Thereafter he had physiotherapy and, by March 1997, he had improved sufficiently to be declared fit for work.

On 8 April 1997, the plaintiff rejoined Cardigan Bay. He worked on board Cardigan Bay until July 1997 and then joined another vessel belonging to the second defendants. On 24 March 1998, whilst he was on leave from the subsequent vessel he was involved in a road accident. This caused a flare up of his previous symptoms and over the ensuing months he was unable to go back to work and underwent a great deal of medical treatment. On 9 November 1998, the plaintiff was found permanently unable to meet medical fitness standards for the Merchant Marine due to recurrent lower back pain. The plaintiff retired from the Merchant Marine from 1 December 1998.

The plaintiff instituted this action on 15 March 1999. He alleges that his back injury was caused by the negligence of the first defendants and/or of that of the second defendants. As regards the first defendants, he relies on the negligence of their workers in the lifting procedure which resulted in his injury. As for the second defendants, his contention is that they were negligent in failing to devise or operate a safe system of work and thereby exposed him to the foreseeable risk of injury from the carrying operation.

Issues

There are both factual and legal issues to be decided. The factual findings I have to make relate to what actually happened on 27 May 1996 and whether, and if so, how, these events led to an injury to the plaintiff`s back. The legal issues arise more in relation to the second defendants and revolve around the question of whether they were in breach of their duty to provide the plaintiff with a safe system of work.

The starting point is the fact that the vessel was placed in dry-dock for the purpose of mast modification works to be effected by Sembawang and their sub-contractors, the first defendants. Among the jobs sub-contracted to the first defendants was job No 1841 which required them to mark and remove all the electrical fittings and cables on the main mast so as to facilitate the renewal of the main mast. On completion of the mast renewal, the first defendants were to re-locate all the electrical fittings and cables on the mast. The plaintiff was not shown this work order but he was aware of the first defendants` role. To quote his own affidavit: `the first defendants and their servants or agents were off-shore contractors appointed to make various modifications that had to be effected on the main mast involving the removal of all aerials, lighting and equipment (including radars) and the re-siting and fitting of the same onto the new mast`.

As for the plaintiff`s own role, in his affidavit he stated that he had been instructed to oversee the main mast modification at dry-dock by Mr Alan Turtle (dry-dock superintendent) and Mr Brian Mullan (electrical superintendent) both employees of the second defendants. There was a lot of important work to do in the dry-dock involving all the electrical equipment on the main mast and Mr Mullan had personally selected him for the dry-dock voyage. In court, the plaintiff added that he had been told that his job was a hands-on job and that he should `get stuck-in`. He also agreed that his role was to ensure that the equipment was not damaged by the first defendants` workers during the operations.

Did the second defendants instruct the plaintiff to lift the equipment?

The first factual issue that arises is whether the plaintiff was instructed by the second defendants to participate in the lifting of the equipment. The plaintiff`s affidavit did not make such a direct allegation. There he said that the master of the vessel, Captain Lax, and himself, had agreed that the antenna must be placed in the wheelhouse so that it would not be damaged by general dry-dock activities. He said that the overall distance that the antenna had to be moved was approximately 20 feet and that it had to be lifted over the sill and through the wheelhouse door. While the antenna itself was not particularly heavy, the attached motor/turning mechanism was considerably heavier and the shape and length of the equipment made it difficult to manoeuvre. He then went on to state that three workers of the first defendants had assisted him in the lifts and to describe the procedure adopted in the lifts. The affidavit did not mention of exactly how he had come to participate in the lifting exercise.

The plaintiff amplified this evidence considerably during cross-examination. He asserted in court that the issue of placing the antenna in the wheelhouse had been raised by him again with the master and had been discussed three times in all: the first time when the decision to put it in the wheelhouse was made and the next two times on 27 May itself, both before and after the antenna was brought down from the mast. He was asked when the agreement referred to in his affidavit on the placing of the antenna had first been made. His reply was that Captain Lax had spoken to him shortly after the vessel arrived in dry-dock, maybe around 17 May, to say that the antenna should be stowed in the wheelhouse.

The plaintiff went on to say that this instruction to stow the equipment in the wheelhouse had been repeated to him on the morning of the lift by Captain Lax. He had spoken to the captain on the bridge wing at the time when the strops were being attached to the antenna in order to bring it down onto the deck. At that point he asked the master whether the antenna could go ashore to be stored in a warehouse. The answer was no. Then, once the antenna had been placed on the bridge wing, he had gone to look for the captain to discuss its stowage. When he found the captain in the wheelhouse five minutes later, the captain said that the first defendants` workers would give him a hand to move the equipment into the wheelhouse, thus implying that the master had already spoken to the workers whilst the plaintiff had been looking for him.

The master`s evidence was different. He was not sure whether he had informed the plaintiff in...

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5 cases
  • Zheng Yu Shan v Lian Beng Construction (1988) Pte Ltd
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 8 January 2009
    ...from a wall. In support of its contention, the Respondent relied on the High Court cases of Gaughan v Straits Instrumentation Pte Ltd [2000] 2 SLR 457 (“Gaughan”) and Chua Ah Beng v C & P Holdings Pte Ltd [2001] 3 SLR 106 (“Chua Ah Beng”), in both of which the defendant employer was held no......
  • Zheng Yu Shan v Lian Beng Construction (1988) Pte Ltd
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 8 January 2009
    ...from a wall. In support of its contention, the Respondent relied on the High Court cases of Gaughan v Straits Instrumentation Pte Ltd [2000] 2 SLR 457 (“Gaughan”) and Chua Ah Beng v C & P Holdings Pte Ltd [2001] 3 SLR 106 (“Chua Ah Beng”), in both of which the defendant employer was held no......
  • Zheng Yu Shan v Lian Beng Construction (1988) Pte Ltd
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    • District Court (Singapore)
    • 27 March 2008
    ...for him to complain that the defendants did not instruct him on these matters.” 24 In Gaughan v Straits Instrumentation Pte Ltd & Anor [2000] 2 SLR 457, the plaintiff assisted 3 other workers in carrying an antenna into a wheelhouse. The only way of moving the antenna into the wheelhouse wa......
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    ...to the cases of Parno v SC Marine Pte Ltd [1999] 4 SLR 579; [1999] SGCA 69 and Gaughan v Straits Instrumentation Pte Ltd and Another [2000] 2 SLR 457; [2000] SGHC 28, argued that the Protec had in fact breached its common law duties in failing to provide Samuel with any briefing when deploy......
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