Haze update: Firms provide help for employees working outdoors

Many issue masks to staff or cut back duties

With the haze at record levels, Singapore's companies adopted varying approaches yesterday to protecting employees working outdoors.

Most tried to balance the continuing need to meet deadlines and deliver essential services with the welfare of their workers. So, while it was business as usual for most of the construction firms, many issued masks and conducted safety briefings.

Some, like engineering firm McConnell Dowell, which has ongoing projects in Jurong Island and Orchard Road, went further. It sent its 500 workers home yesterday afternoon.

"A few of our guys were coughing or had eye irritation, so we let them all go," said regional operations manager David Christodoulou, "Some clients may not be too happy, but in the long run, it is our workers who will get sick if they continue working."

Hexacon Construction general manager Dominic Choy suspended strenuous activities, such as plastering or working on reinforcement bars, in the afternoon, and added that work would stop if the Pollutant Standards Index went beyond the 400 mark.

The PSI level soared to a record-high level of 371 at 1pm yesterday, surpassing Wednesday's record of 321 and 1997's record of 226.

The polluted air is deemed "hazardous" when the PSI breaches 300.

On Monday, the Manpower Ministry said employers had a duty to protect their employees' safety and health at work, and must carry out proper risk assessments to mitigate the effects of the haze.

Workers providing essential public services were given the necessary protection or had their duties cut back or modified.

SingPost also set up a hotline for its 1,400 couriers and postmen in case they needed assistance. Masks and eyedrops were also given to them on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Comfort has started issuing masks to its taxi drivers, and advised them to drive carefully, as visibility on the roads is poor.

Over at the ports, operators like Jurong Port reduced outdoor work assignments for employees with existing heart or respiratory conditions and those above 55 years old, or reassigned them indoors.

A National Parks Board spokesman said workers had been told to scale back on outdoor activities and to seek medical attention if they were feeling unwell.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, coordinating chairman for People's Action Party town councils, said non-essential maintenance services such as landscaping works, block washing, tree pruning and the removal of bulky items have been postponed.

Essential services such as lift rescues and emergency repairs will continue as usual, but these workers will be issued masks, he added.

An Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council spokesman said projects delayed by the haze would be granted a deadline extension. Staff were given masks and advised to stay indoors whenever possible.

But there were also service providers that decided to cease operations altogether.

The Red Cross said it was keeping its First-Aider on Wheels - a volunteer patrol along East Coast Park - behind closed doors.

McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut all suspended deliveries completely.

Pastamania initially suspended deliveries but later re-started the service using vans and cars instead of motorcycles. "We cannot promise that we can deliver to all areas, but we will do our best," it said on its Facebook page.