Lim Chih Yang

It is not often that one can learn leadership lessons from The New Paper. While our local tabloid is a surprisingly good resource on how to manage one’s finances, enjoy fine dining, get the latest gossip, and contains the most comprehensive coverage of football news, it rarely comes up with soul-inspiring stuff.

So it was that I was very touched by this story, “I give his family $3,000 every Hari Raya”, that appeared in its pages on 30 April 2008.

Mr Lam Teck Foo, a sub-contractor, was fined a total of $150,000 for “failing to take reasonable and adequate fall protection measures, under the Workplace Safety and Health Act”. He was fined as a fatal accident had occurred to one of his workers, who fell to his death while working on the rooftop on September 2006. While his workers had been wearing safety helmets, safety goggles, gloves, safety harnesses and belts, they had no lifelines to secure their harnesses to.

The fine of $150,000 is huge when we look at Lam’s income tax return of a little over $43,000. He had not contested the charge and had in fact acknowledged his responsibility for the worker:

…I was not around the work site, but my foreman said that the worker was feeling dizzy. He was walking backwards when he fell off the roof. But, he admitted, that as the boss of the company, he is responsible for the safety of his workers…

The sub-contractor had also promised to give $3000 annually to the family of the deceased every Hari Raya for three years from the accident. On top of the gesture, he had also foot the bill for the burial, funeral and the chartering of his workers to attend the funeral, which worked out to an estimated $15,000. (The funeral took place in the Malaysian state of Terengganu – the hometown of the deceased worker, Mr Zainal Zakaria.)

While we are in no position to gauge Lam’s financial means, I am nevertheless touched by his gesture and sincere apology to the family. Feelings aside, though, a few questions are still in my mind. While Lam is the boss, he was not physically present at the worksite to personally supervise the workers, and ensure that his workers had their life-lines secured. So why, then, is he being held responsible for the accident?

Perhaps Lam should have taken a leaf out of our Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng’s example. Here is how the scenario would have played out had Lam been an attentive student in Wong’s leadership class.

1) Upon knowing that the accident had happened, Lam would have made a gesture of apology by telling the deceased family, “This should not have happened. I am sorry that it has.”

2) Then, he would have convened a Commission of Inquiry (COI), including one of his own safety officers as part of the committee.

3) Thirdly, he would then have released the COI’s findings and absolved himself of all blame, since he is the boss and he is reasonably not expected to be on site to check all lifelines.

4) Fourthly, he would have gotten his colleagues to be both cheerleader and defence attorney, and exhort everyone to “move on”.

5) Lastly, he would have lain low and waited for it to blow over.

Hey if Lam had learned his lesson, he would have saved his company a whopping $150,000 in fines, plus all the other costs he incurred in compensating the deceased’s family.

But no, Lam did not evade responsibility. In fact, he did just the opposite. He stood up, accepted his part of the blame, apologised to the family of the deceased, paid the $150,000 fine, paid for the funeral and even pledged to give the family $3,000 for the next three years at Hari Raya.

Now that, dear readers, is true leadership – from a sub-contractor.

Mr Lam has, according to The New Paper report, five children aged 3, 11, 12, 14 and 15. His request to pay the $150,000 fine over ten months was rejected by the authorities.


About the author:

Chih-Yang is a Financial Advisor. He was previously a Project Manager in the corporate world where he regularly clocks 14-hour-day-work in the office. He is passionate about current affairs, international politics, social concerns and loves to write on issues close to Singaporeans’ heart. Chih-Yang is also active in sports and serving in his church. When he is not catching up on the latest news he will be following the fortunes of his beloved Newcastle United Football Club.


Read also: What do domestic helpers have to do with Wong Kan Seng? by Blue Heeler.


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