By Eitan

“One day, boss face change,” says Abdul Khaium. “Somebody senior talk to boss, then boss become like angry me.”

Abdul Khaium does not know the reason even now, but his story is one of an employer who seems to have been patient and understanding until that day. Once the attitude changed, however, it became impossible to continue working there. “Boss say he want to cut my permit, so I say okay.”

His work permit was then cancelled and the worker is now on a Special Pass.

There is nothing in Abdul Khaium’s story that is dramatic. In fact his injury didn’t arise from any single accident, but from repetitive stress. But my editor suggested that we should document it anyway to illustrate how such a case can develop.

Abdul Khaium had been working in Singapore since 1993; he’s now 48 years old and has spent most of his adult life here. He joined a plumbing and sanitary contractor in May 2012, and found himself doing a job that was quite different from ones he did previously. This job involved much extension of the wrists.

extended_wrists“My hand many times like this,” he said, demonstrating the position (shown in the drawing at left) his arms had to adopt to hold a pipe in place. Indeed, plumbers often have to work in confined spaces requiring awkward positions.

By October 2012, both wrists hurt continuously. He informed his foreman that he needed to seek medical attention and made his own way to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.  There, he was given some medicine and a few days’ medical leave. He was also given follow-up appointments, at which it was observed that his wrists weren’t getting better. It became plain that the nature of the job was likely the source of the problem.

Eventually, surgery was scheduled for July 2013. “One hand operation on 15 July, the other hand on 31 July,” he remembers the dates clearly. “One operation,  fifteen days MC, total doctor give me thirty days.”

operation scars on both wrists

operation scars on both wrists


Abdul Khaium passed the medical leave certificates to his boss, who told him that he would “apply insurance”. It’s not clear whether it was merely to claim for recovery of medical expenses or if it was a work injury compensation claim. Abdul Khaium’s mention that he had paid the hospital costs himself and was asking for reimbursement, suggests that it could be no more than the former. The TWC2 case advisor who was present advised Abdul Khaium to find out what exactly was meant by “apply insurance”. If the boss had not yet filed for a work injury claim — and it might well be that up to that point, everyone believed that it would be completely curable — he should do so himself.

This example puts the spotlight on repetitive stress injuries. At what point does one decide that it is unlikely to get better? Does one have to wait to that point before filing a work injury compensation claim?

When Abdul Khaium’s 30 days of medical leave was exhausted, he told his employer that he couldn’t resume work like before. “Still problem with hand,” he said to his boss.  The doctor had indicated that it might take six months to heal.  The boss agreed to change Abdul Khaium’s job somewhat, so that his hands would not have to lift or support anything heavy, in effect putting him on light duties. The deal however, was that he would not be getting any overtime work.

This arrangement continued for six weeks, until the end of September when, for unknown reasons, “boss face change”.

Ascertaining that he had no more hospital appointments, TWC2 advised him to seek an early date for assessment of permanent incapacity, assuming that  a work injury compensation claim has been filed. The earlier he is assessed, the sooner he can go home where he can give his wrists their proper six months’ rest.

It is not often that TWC2 sees repetitive strain injuries, my editor tells me, and without a sufficient number of prior cases, it is hard to predict how Abdul Khaium’s assessment will turn out. Will the doctors consider this a permanent incapacity? Or will it be seen as a condition that will eventually pass, even if it takes many months? But if so, how is he and his family to cope when he cannot work for this lengthy period?