Separate centres to train, assess workplace safety

The Straits Times editorial "Raise bar for workplace safety training" (Jan 2) correctly highlighted the importance of workplace safety and health (WSH) training in preventing accidents in the workplace.

However, according to several articles - "Four workplace safety and health training providers lose accreditation" (ST Online; Dec 10, 2014) and "Certs without tests? Workers have to retrain" (Oct 18, 2015) - there has been a worrying trend of malpractice among some WSH training providers.

Examples include instructors allowing trainees to "copy answers off a screen", cutting short the training duration and even getting certificates without assessment.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has been tightening its regulation of WSH training providers and several of them have been barred from conducting WSH training.

However, such malpractice is probably just the tip of the iceberg and there are many factors contributing to this situation.

Financial and production pressure in the industry, coupled with the lack of a safety culture, can lead to employers sending their workers to training providers that "guarantee" the passing of tests.

Ironically, the tighter the requirements for the industry to have WSH certificates, the greater the profit for those running such scams.

When the trainees or the employers of the trainees only want their certificates, without any concern for the actual WSH knowledge or skills, then unscrupulous training providers will benefit and quality training providers will suffer.

One alternative is for MOM to create a small number of assessment centres that focus on assessments, while training centres are regulated through accreditation and audits by independent parties.

Training providers should be given more leeway to develop their own training material and employers should be encouraged to pay more attention to the quality of training.

WSH courses under the charge of the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) should also be monitored closely. More fundamentally, all institutes of higher learning and vocational training courses must incorporate WSH knowledge and skills as an integral part of their courses.

In this way, WSH will be seen as a natural part of any job and our safety culture will improve in time.

Goh Yang Miang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Separate centres to train, assess workplace safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe