Workplace Safety and Health Act 2006 – New Sentencing Regime Post-Manta Equipment (S) Pte Ltd

January 13, 2023
In the July 2022 Singapore High Court (“SGHC”) decision in Public Prosecutor v Manta Equipment (S) Pte Ltd [2022] SGHC 157 (“Manta”), the SGHC reviewed the existing legal position on sentencing for offences committed under Section 12(1) of the Workplace Safety and Health Act 2006 (the “Act”). In so doing, the SGHC harmonised the divergent sentencing approaches in existing case law, and developed a new sentencing framework to be applied in cases where a body corporate is charged with offences under Section 12(1) of the Act.

To elaborate, Section 12(1) of the Act imposes a duty on every employer to “take, so far as is reasonably practicable, such measures as are necessary to ensure the safety and health of the employer’s employees at work.” A contravention of Section 12(1) is an offence, pursuant to Section 20 of the same Act.

Notably, the structure of the Act makes it possible for an officer of a body corporate to be charged and found guilty of an offence under Section 12(1), pursuant to Section 48(1) of the Act. Furthermore, while a body corporate may be liable to a fine not exceeding $500,000.00, an officer may be liable to a fine not exceeding $200,000.00, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or to both.

Given the recently reported rise in offences under the Act in Singapore, officers of bodies corporate (such as directors or company secretaries) which find themselves at risk contravening Section 12(1) of the Act may wish to pay close attention to legal developments which flow from Manta. This is because, at the time of writing, there have been no reported decisions where the Manta sentencing framework has been modified to apply to a human officer for an offence under Section 12(1) of the Act.

Characterist LLC has recently had the opportunity to render our services to a client, who is a director of a construction company who had pleaded guilty to offences under Section 12(1) of the Act. In making our legal submissions on sentencing, we broached new grounds in being one of the first law firms to apply the Manta sentencing framework in a modified form to an accused person who was a human officer of a body corporate.

At the conclusion of our submissions, the Honourable Court ultimately adopted a proportional approach to sentencing, wherein the starting point was that the fine imposed on a human officer would lie at around 40% of that which would be imposed on a body corporate under the Manta sentencing framework. The basis of this position was that the maximum fine a company could face is $500,000.00 under the Act whereas a human officer would face a maximum fine of $200,000.00.

Although our work covered new and barely explored legal territory, the full impact of the Manta decision remains to be seen. Some open questions that remain include, for officers of bodies corporate, when it would be appropriate to impose a term of imprisonment for an offence under Section 12(1) of the Act, and whether the imposition of imprisonment should have any bearing on the fine (if any) that might be simultaneously imposed. These questions will have to be answered over the course of the incremental development of case law in time to come.

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