Parliament: Fines to double for safety violations that could cause serious accidents

The increased fine is among changes in the Workplace Safety and Health Act and its subsidiary legislation that were passed in Parliament on Nov 6, 2017.
The increased fine is among changes in the Workplace Safety and Health Act and its subsidiary legislation that were passed in Parliament on Nov 6, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - From Jan 1, companies which commit multiple safety breaches that are likely to cause death or serious harm will face heftier fines of up to $50,000 an offence, a jump from $20,000.

Such dangerous infractions include the failure to have protective structures to prevent falls and not appointing authorised people to supervise hazardous works, said Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan on Monday (Nov 6).

The increased fine is among changes in the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act and its subsidiary legislation that were passed in Parliament on Monday (Nov 6).

Mr Tan, in outlining the changes, said the aim is to stop unsafe work practices before accidents happen. The number of such potentially serious accident cases has doubled from 13 in 2013 to 26 last year.

Currently, his ministry issues composition fines and stop work orders to errant companies.

He also noted that most of the higher penalties that were imposed took place after serious harm had occurred. The fines for these cases are up to $500,000 per offence.

"While we can penalise the companies, it is already too late for the injured or deceased workers and their families. Prevention is still the better option to protect (against) unnecessary loss of lives and livelihoods," Mr Tan said.

From Jan 1, MOM can also share the recommendations and learning points from accidents before the conclusion of criminal proceedings, which could take as long as three years from the date of the accident.

The move will allow steps to be taken quickly to prevent future incidents.

He stressed the learning reports will not be admissable in any court proceedings.

Companies and individuals will not be named, there will be no statements of liability in the reports, and the relevant parties will be consulted on the draft report before publication.

Similar practices exist at the United States Chemical Safety Board and the United Kingdom Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

Another change is that safety inspectors and enforcement officers will get greater protection to do their work without fear of being sued for damaging property as long as they carry out their tasks in good faith and with reasonable care.

The expanded protection could cover cases in which they need to gain entry into a property or if the advice they give companies results in damage during implementation.

Inspectors were previously covered only for equipment damage following inspection or testing.

Also, to keep WSH courses and teaching methods up to date, their accreditation will be shifted from MOM to SkillsFuture Singapore, which oversees the national Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) system.

This is in line with the shift of the WSH courses to the WSQ system by 2019. Now, 23 out of 56 WSH courses have been shifted.

The accreditation change will take effect on Jan 1, 2019.

Seven MPs spoke in support of the changes, while highlighting concerns.

They include labour MPs Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) and Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) who said the learning reports may cause bias in witnesses, affect the company's business and may lead to workers being retrenched.

Mr Tan said the extent of sharing for each learning report will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh and Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi also called for further improvements to the WSH Act to specifically cover more types of risks, such as occupational disease and workplace abuse and harassment.