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The Straits Times says

Tragedy of preventable deaths

The harrowing statistic of 26 workplace deaths, in less than four months this year, is placed in even sharper perspective by the fact that eight of those deaths occurred within the past three weeks alone. Clearly, this fatal trajectory is alarming and unacceptable. Simply put, no one should die on the job, ever. It is all the more tragic when a life is lost because rules were not followed, heavy machines were not checked, or attempts were made to cut corners dangerously. Fallen workers might be replaced over time in workplaces but the loss of every breadwinner can upturn the lives of many others, perhaps even wrecking the chances of a better life for them.

It is high time, therefore, for employers - especially those in industries with poor records - to embrace a culture of responsibility to guide all workplace practices. The threat of legal sanctions alone is not enough to minimise the number of casualties because penalties might not deter companies with deep pockets. Instead, one must foster a corporate culture which views workplace deaths as an indictment of a firm's managerial and administrative capabilities.

The Workplace Safety and Health Council can help to make a difference on the ground in this respect. Its membership is comprehensive: It draws on the expertise of leaders from major industries, including construction, manufacturing, marine industries, petrochemicals and logistics; from legal, insurance and academic fields; and from government and the labour movement. The council and other agencies related to the Manpower Ministry should work to alert employers of the non-negotiable need to take practicable measures to ensure the safety and health of workers. Liability lies with those who have management and control of operations. Whatever the form of a chain of command, it should be made clear to all holding positions of responsibility that they cannot simply delegate it to someone else and claim they have no personal knowledge of the circumstances leading to a workplace death. It is their common duty to ensure the lives and limbs of workers are adequately protected at all times.

Of course, employees themselves must not put themselves at risk by not following proper protocols. They can contribute to a safer work environment by not just focusing on the task at hand but also understanding inherent hazards - how these can be tamed, reduced, controlled and eventually eradicated altogether. And they must think not just of themselves but also of others working alongside them or down the line, including independent contractors engaged for projects. It ought to be second nature to them to always weigh the adequacy and feasibility of safeguards. The greater the risk, the more important it is to avoid being swayed by cost considerations alone. Every life is precious, after all.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline 'Tragedy of preventable deaths'. Print Edition | Subscribe