Employers must change mindset on safety

Though I am appalled to read that the fatality rate in Singapore's workplaces is set to rise further this year, I am not surprised ("Workplace fatality rate set to rise this year"; Aug 25).

It was reported that nine in 10 deaths occurred because workers overlooked safety issues.

I am sure no worker comes here to lose his life. Many have to borrow money in their home countries and leave behind their loved ones in order to come here to work and make their lives better. Hence, working unsafely is the last thing they want to do.

But a worker who has a huge loan to settle would not want to go against his employer's direction and risk being sent back for defying orders, even if he is forced to work in an unsafe environment.

As long as employers have the mindset that workplace safety infringement is inevitable, and treat risk assessment and permit-to-work systems as merely paper exercises, we can be assured that the fatality rate in our workplaces will increase.

Currently, most of the workplace safety and health officers come under the payroll of the main contractors. Hence, how much influence can they exert? What more can they do other than give advice?

I suggest that there be independent safety officers from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) or accredited firms to take charge of safety in the workplace.

These officers can act independently and without fear. They can issue stop-work orders and copy them to MOM for record or further action. Contractors and developers will, consequently, beef up safety measures.

Another area MOM should look at is the restrictions on the time frame the contractors have to complete their projects.

Some contractors may be hard pressed to complete the work or risk facing liquidated damages for failure to finish on time.

Thus, a longer time frame to complete the work should be accorded to the contractors if we are serious about safety issues.

Rajasegaran Ramasamy