Firms act to protect staff as haze looks set to linger

Workers at an MRT construction site in Pioneer Road wearing masks yesterday morning. Their employer, Chong Brothers General Contractor, later replaced their surgical masks with N95 masks, which offer better protection from the haze. The workers have
Workers at an MRT construction site in Pioneer Road wearing masks yesterday morning. Their employer, Chong Brothers General Contractor, later replaced their surgical masks with N95 masks, which offer better protection from the haze. The workers have also been reminded to alert their supervisors if they are unwell.PHOTO: CHONG BROTHERS GENERAL CONTRACTOR

They issue protective gear, offer option to work from home or modify their operations

Many firms have stepped up safety measures to protect staff amid the worsening haze.

Issuing protective gear, changing operations and offering the option to work from home are among a range of steps that bosses are taking to minimise disruption to their businesses.

Construction firms told The Straits Times that they have stocked up on masks and respirators for workers exposed to long hours outdoors.

UOB FLEXIBLE WORK ARRANGEMENTS

While there is no national shutdown of work places, work activities should not compromise the health and safety of our colleagues.

Therefore, managers may exercise discretion in granting time off or leave to those with chronic heart or lung problems, or who are pregnant.

They also say they are tracking the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) and will stop work once it hits a hazardous level.

"We are monitoring the situation closely and we will follow the ministry's guidelines to defer non-essential work when the PSI level exceeds 300," said Mr Alvin Tang, project manager of Chong Brothers General Contractor.

Around 50 workers at a construction site in Pioneer Road were given masks before they started their outdoor work yesterday morning, said Mr Tang, adding that he has reminded staff to alert their supervisors if they are unwell.

A SembMarine spokesman said the firm will minimise outdoor activities in severe haze conditions by redeploying workers indoors.

A Rotary Engineering spokesman said job rotation and more frequent breaks will be enforced if the haze persists over long periods.

Employees will also be allowed to work from home, she added.

CapitaLand said main contractors and subcontractors at its project sites were required to comply with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Manpower and the National Environment Agency. They also have to conduct risk assessments to determine whether outdoor lifting operations involving tower and mobile cranes should cease if visibility is poor.

The company will also close external features of its properties such as roof gardens and playgrounds and keep all automatic doors closed if PSI readings cross the 150 mark.

Flexible working arrangements have been rolled out in some firms to allow employees to work from home.

All 30 employees of integrated communications firm SPRG Singapore were told to work from home yesterday, said general manager Edwin Yeo.

They will also have to stay at home if PSI levels exceed 300 next week.

Certain DBS Bank staff may work from home if the PSI crosses 200, said a spokesman.

Staff at OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank (UOB) who are pregnant, have underlying medical conditions or who need to take care of their children due to the haze may be allowed to work from home.

UOB said: "While there is no national shutdown of work places, work activities should not compromise the health and safety of our colleagues. Therefore, managers may exercise discretion in granting time off or leave to those with chronic heart or lung problems, or who are pregnant."

Singapore research house NetResearch Asia said in a note yesterday that anecdotal evidence shows that businesses have been affected by the haze on top of other issues this year. "The concern that current conditions will likely last to November, due to the longer than expected dry season, will impact struggling businesses that have already been hit by high rentals and falling demand."

OCBC economist Selena Ling does not think it will have a huge impact on growth numbers, but she does think it could drag down companies and affect sentiment.

"Manufacturing already looks pretty down in the doldrums. The haze situation doesn't really help. If it lasts till November it could actually impact retail and the food and beverage industry. In the past, we have seen how food deliveries were cancelled due to the haze."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'Firms act to protect staff as haze looks set to linger'. Print Edition | Subscribe