By Keith Wong
At right is a picture of Pennada Balarama Murthy taken six weeks after the accident that injured his right ankle. He still cannot put weight on that foot. Any reasonable person would say he should be on medical leave. Even prescribing light duty would not be appropriate since he can’t climb onto the lorry to go to work.
Below, this shipyard worker gives a diary-like account of the days immediately following the accident.
Friday, 14 August 2015:
2 pm: While walking on a gangway somewhere within Sembawang Shipyard, he steps on a loose welding electrode, slips and slides a few metres. Pain in the right ankle. Reports the accident to the safety officers of his company and the shipyard. “Company give pain spray and ointment,” he recalls. He is told to rest in the bicycle shed. Ankle swells very badly. Pain gets worse.
6pm: Finally a lorry comes, and he is taken to a small private clinic in the Admiralty area. Doctor takes an X-ray and prescribes some pain killers. Writes out a note for one day of medical leave (to cover today). No medical leave for tomorrow. Sent back to dorm. “My room on sixth floor,” he says. “Many man help to carry me.”
Saturday, 15 August 2015:
It’s a working day, but the supervisor knows better than to ask him to go to work. He rests alone in the dorm, but the pain soon becomes unbearable. Murthy calls his supervisor, and finally, at 6pm, the company sends a lorry around and takes him to West Point Hospital. Another X-ray is taken. Another MC is written out, for one day’s medical leave again (to cover today). Tomorrow will be Sunday. For Monday, the doctor writes out a Light Duty order. A follow-up appointment is scheduled for 18 August.
Sunday and Monday, 16 and 17 August 2015:
Murthy rests in his dorm. His friends help when they can, bringing food and water to him.
Tuesday, 18 August 2015:
Murthy is taken to West Point Hospital for the scheduled follow-up appointment, but the doctor is not there.
Wednesday, 19 August 2015:
Murthy goes to West Point Hospital again. This time, the doctor says the ankle needs to be operated on without delay. He arranges for surgery tomorrow morning at Parkway East Hospital, and tells the company representative to take Murthy there directly. A bed has been readied at Parkway to receive Murthy where he can be prepped for the operation overnight. Company refuses. “Company man tell doctor cannot 24 hour in hospital.” So Murthy is sent back to the dorm. No medical leave prescribed.
Thursday, 20 August 2015:
Murthy is woken up before dawn and driven to West Point. From there, an ambulance takes him to Parkway East Hospital, where the operation goes smoothly. After the anaesthetic has worn off, Murthy is taken back to the dorm. Men carry him up six flights of stairs again. “Company not agree to let me stay in ward.”
No medical leave prescribed. “Only give me one week light duty,” he tells TWC2.
In fact, he would not get any more medical leave from the company doctors. Even at the follow-up appointments on 25 August and 1 September where his bandages were changed, “Safety [officer] tell doctor no need MC,” recounts Murthy.
The company was quite prepared to give Murthy the medical treatment he needed. It was quite content to let him rest in the dorm even if he did not have medical leave, but, as is clear from the above, just did not want doctors to make formal notes of medical leave. Likewise, it didn’t want Murthy to stay overnight in a ward.
To lay readers, it may not make much sense. But to those of us all too familiar with employers trying their utmost to circumvent the accident reporting system instituted by the Ministry of Manpower, it’s just one more tale among the hundreds we hear each year.
Around the second week of September, Murthy made his own way, crutches notwithstanding, to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He has since filed a work injury compensation claim, which means that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is now aware that an accident occurred, resulting in a serious injury.
Will MOM now take the company to task for not reporting the accident? Will they look into how the company tried to circumvent the system? From the many similar cases TWC2 has seen, it doesn’t appear as if the ministry will.
How many other accidents have been successfully covered up? How does one improve work safety if attempts to cover up go unpunished?