Higher fines expected for employers guilty of breaching workplace safety laws

Employers who breach workplace safety laws will face stiffer fines in future.
Employers who breach workplace safety laws will face stiffer fines in future.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Employers found guilty by the court for failing to take adequate measures to ensure the health and safety of its workers at the workplace can expect to face stiffer fines in the future.

The High Court has agreed with prosecutors that the fines imposed by the courts in previous cases under the Workplace Safety and Health Act have been too low and that a review of the sentencing regime was necessary.

In a 42-page written judgment, Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon laid down a sentencing framework which sets out a range of possible fines depending on whether the culpability and the potential harm in each case was high, medium or low.

For instance, a company whose acts reflect a high level of culpability and a high potential for harm could be fined between $300,000 and $500,000. On the other end of the spectrum, a company whose acts show a low level of culpability and a low potential for harm could be fined up to $20,000.

"For future cases, the sentencing court should bear in mind that the legislative intent for the introduction of more severe penalties was to create a more palpable deterrent effect and encourage stakeholders to take more proactive measures to minimise the occurrence of accidents at the workplace," he said.

The decision comes after the case of GS Engineering & Construction Corp, which was prosecuted for the deaths of two workers at a Fusionopolis worksite in 2014.

After a district court imposed a $150,000 fine, prosecutors appealed to double the fine and asked the High Court to establish sentencing guidelines, arguing that the courts should "utilise the full range of the sentences prescribed by Parliament".

The Act, which replaced the Factories Act in 2006, was enacted after a review of workplace safety regulations following three high-profile worksite accidents in 2004, including the collapse of Nicoll Highway.

The maximum prescribed punishment for companies that breach the Act is a $500,000 fine for first-time offenders and $1 million for repeat offenders. Under the old Factories Act, the maximum fine was $200,000.

Prosecutors argued that most of the sentences imposed by the courts falls below 30 per cent of the maximum of $500,000. At the time GS was fined, no penalty above $200,000 had been imposed.

In the case of GS, the judicial commissioner increased the fine to $250,000, taking into account that two lives were lost but the company was proactive in taking remedial steps to improve safety.