Continued from Dulal faced problems on all fronts, none of his own making

Laymen think that polygraph tests can reliably establish the veracity of a person’s statement and detect his lies. Perhaps those old movies of the polygraph pen gyrating wildly on the chart and the suspect shouting out his confession, convinced that it’s futile to hide his guilt any longer, plays a part in spreading this belief.

However, as the American Psychological Association states:

Polygraph testing has generated considerable scientific and public controversy. Most psychologists and other scientists agree that there is little basis for the validity of polygraph tests. Courts, including the United States Supreme Court (cf. U.S. v. Scheffer, 1998 in which Dr.’s Saxe’s research on polygraph fallibility was cited), have repeatedly rejected the use of polygraph evidence because of its inherent unreliability.

— Source: The Truth About Lie Detectors (aka Polygraph Tests). Link

white_10x40polygraph_925The instrument typically used to conduct the polygraph test consists of a physiological recorder that assesses respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductivity through a strap wrapped around the chest, a blood pressure cuff, and electrodes to the temples. But therein lies an underlying problem: There is no evidence that any pattern of physiological reactions is unique to deception. A better argument is that it actually measures just fear.

But does fear always correlate with lying?

The MOM officer who conducted the polygraph test told Dulal Abdul Hai that if he failed, he would be sent to prison. What a wonderful way to put the respondent at ease.

According to Dulal, the conversation took several unusual turns with the officer accusing him of lying, and then blaming him for the cost of administering the polygraph test. Attempting to make him feel responsible for and apologetic about the cost of the polygraph doesn’t make sense.  Dulal recalls the officer as saying,  “Do you know how much this polygraph costs? Are you willing to pay this money to company if you fail the test? You want to say you’re sorry?”

Dulal gave a sensible answer,  “If I fail the test, I can say sorry but I can’t return the money.”

Dulal explains “He put things on my brain, around my arms, my fingers and my legs, but. I wasn’t scared. He asked if I was scared.”

“No, why should I be scared,” Dulal replied.

When told that he would have to undergo the procedure again if he failed, he asked if the boss would also be subjected to the polygraph test.

“After, after,” was the ambiguous answer he received.

The polygraph test was administered on 2 July 2013. Dulal recalls these questions and answers. It appears that the test included both relevant and control questions.

MOM: How did the accident happen?

Dulal: I fell from a ladder.

MOM: Who brought you to hospital?

Dulal: I went on my own, together with my brother.

MOM: Why did the company suspend you for one week?

Dulal: I tried to separate the two people who were fighting.

MOM: Tell me if these statements are true are false. I’m going to say some things and I want you to answer incorrectly. Before I asked you if you are now in Singapore. This is correct, but I want you to say false.

MOM: You are injured and this was a workplace injury.

Dulal: No, it wasn’t.

MOM: Are you Australian?

Dulal: Yes, I’m Australian

MOM: Are you Canadian?

Dulal: Yes, I’m Canadian.

MOM: Are you Dulal?

Dulal: No, I’m not Dulal.

MOM: I’m recording your response to these lies so that I can see the difference in your physical reaction to the lies and the truth. This radiograph will show the difference. Do you think you can pass this exam?

Dulal: Yes, because if this test is reliable I can succeed.

Dulal was worried that he might have become confused with the negatives, but he wasn’t asked to retake the test. From his recollection of the test, it appears that the control questions were not designed to cause anxiety or unease, but were simply confusing. The fact that MOM makes use of this as a way of determining the truth of a man’s claims reveals how little they understand the nature of the test.

We don’t know if the same test is used to detect the truthfulness of the employer’s statement, but the employer’s version of how the accident occurred wouldn’t be based on first hand experience, but rather on supporting evidence, such as safety reports, time sheets, witnesses, and doctor’s notes. As we’ve noted in other stories and in our research (https://twc2.org.sg/2013/12/06/who-said-what-to-the-doctor/), the employer is in a position to alter or destroy documents, repatriate or threaten witnesses and influence the story told to the doctor.

Dulal withdrew his claim for work injury compensation and returned home late November 2013.

editorial_comment_2

Dulal’s story brings to light two issues:

  • The danger and injustice that can result from using an imperfect test administered with little understanding of how it should be administered or what it detects. In this case Dulal, the injured party, could have been charged and imprisoned for making a false injury compensation claim. As far as we know, employers are not penalized for disputing the circumstances of the injury and being proven wrong.
  • The asymmetrical power relationship between worker and employer and worker and MOM. The worker in this case is presumed guilty and has to prove his innocence in challenging hostile circumstances. This is becoming an increasingly common occurrence, partly due to larger numbers of workers claiming compensation benefits to avoid repatriation after minor injuries, but more often due to the employer attempting to avoid making extra payments and blemishing their safety record.