Promote safe working practices on the ground

Low wages may be one of the main factors behind workplace deaths and injuries, but adequate training, enforcement of safety regulations and proper treatment of workers are also relevant issues ("Low wages a factor in injuries, deaths at work" by Transient Workers Count Too; June 8).

Singapore's heavy industry, particularly the construction sector, is dependent on low-cost foreign labour.

As is the case in many aspects of business, this is motivated largely by a desire to reduce cost. Indeed, this accounts for the depressed wages.

Companies also have an incentive to find savings by trimming other aspects of labour management, such as training.

Many migrant workers are forced to pick up their trade on the job and receive informal briefings on safety procedures.

While the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has committed itself to performing more workplace inspections to detect lapses in safety measures, contractors and on-site managers still remain the foremost line of enforcement.

The extent of their efforts to promote and ensure safe working practices is questionable.

After all, putting up banners with hackneyed slogans does not, in itself, inculcate a workplace culture that emphasises safety above speed and convenience.

In view of these half-hearted efforts, it is unsurprising that workplace accidents remain more common than they should be.

We must also consider how foreign workers are all too often dehumanised and regarded as mere assets by their employers.

Mistreatment of labourers does not necessarily imply direct abuse. It can and does manifest in more insidious forms, such as poor living conditions, insufficient rest, malnutrition, social isolation and psychological stress, all of which are detrimental to work performance and safety.

To enhance workplace safety, solutions need to be implemented on the ground.

Examples include having mandatory training that follows a prescribed MOM syllabus for workers in high-risk areas, or introducing greater incentives and penalties based on greater scrutiny of worksite practices.

Migrant workers have contributed greatly to the local economy, and it is high time they enjoyed the regulatory protection they deserve.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Promote safe working practices on the ground'. Print Edition | Subscribe