54 workplace deaths so far this year; falls most common cause

A total of 54 workers have died on the job this year, the Ministry of Manpower said yesterday.
A total of 54 workers have died on the job this year, the Ministry of Manpower said yesterday.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

A total of 54 workers have died on the job this year, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday, as a report on workplace safety said falls continued to be the most common cause of fatalities at work.

"The increase in workplace fatalities, particularly due to fall from heights, is an area of concern," a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times.

"In response, MOM has stepped up enforcement operations, particularly in high-risk sectors such as construction," the ministry added.

MOM has conducted more than 11,000 inspections and issued 76 stop-work orders this year, as of Aug 31. It is also stepping up efforts to educate workers on safety measures when working at heights.

The rise in workplace deaths led Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say to warn last month that the fatality rate is likely to hit 2.2 per 100,000 workers this year, up from 1.9 last year, which saw 66 fatalities.

Of this year's 54 deaths, 20 were in construction, five in marine, six in manufacturing and nine in the transport and storage sector. The other 14 were in other workplaces.

Observers say a range of factors, from negligence to fatigue, could have led to a rise in fatalities. This prompted MOM in May to raise penalties for firms with safety issues.

Yesterday, the Workplace Safety and Health Institute (WSHI) published a report on work injuries in the first half of this year. There were 42 deaths from January to June, up from 30 in the same period last year.

Falls accounted for 16 workplace deaths from January to June this year, twice that a year ago. Eleven of these were falls from a height.

At least two more fatal falls have happened since June. One of the most recent was on Aug 28, when a 33-year-old construction worker from China fell seven storeys to his death, after a formwork panel toppled over the edge of the building and took him down with it.

"It takes a collective effort by employers, project managers, designers, workers and the public to ensure workplace safety," MOM said.

"While we urge companies to take proactive steps to implement safety measures at workplaces... workers are reminded to do their part to abide by safety regulations and take proactive steps to protect themselves," it added.

A WSHI study out last month on 33 construction deaths between June last year and May this year showed most were due to unsafe behaviour by workers and employers not managing risks properly. Workers were found to have taken shortcuts, such as not wearing protective gear, while bosses made light of risk assessments or did not provide lifelines for workers' safety harnesses.

As for non-fatal cases in the first half of this year, minor injuries rose by 2.5 per cent while major injuries fell by 4 per cent. These severe injuries, which include amputations, blindness and burns with more than 20 days' medical leave, fell to 284 cases from 296 a year ago. More than half were injuries from being crushed, fractures or dislocations.

Ms Debbie Fordyce of migrant workers' advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too noted that the burdens of some major injuries can be long-lasting, saying: "I see men whose treatments last beyond one year or beyond the insured amount of $36,000, and the employer is within his rights not to pay for any further treatment. There should be some system in place to deal with catastrophic injuries such as these."

Fewer occupational ailments were diagnosed, with the number of cases falling from 441 to 400. They include noise-induced deafness, work-related musculoskeletal disorders like back injuries and skin diseases.

Meanwhile, the number of dangerous occurrences reported in the first half of this year rose to 27, from 20 a year ago. Nearly half of these were due to cranes collapsing, and 30 per cent were fires and explosions.

MOM urged people to report any safety lapses they see at worksites.

Since April, it has seen a 40 per cent increase in members of the public reporting safety lapses through mobile app Snap@MOM.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline '54 workplace deaths so far this year; falls most common cause'. Print Edition | Subscribe