Contractors call for review of approach to workplace safety

Construction workers at a HDB construction site in Sengkang West Ave on Aug 20, 2012.
Construction workers at a HDB construction site in Sengkang West Ave on Aug 20, 2012.PHOTO: ST FILE

They worry stiffer penalties could affect firms' viability and say that responsibility should extend to other parties

Contractors have raised concerns that stiffer safety measures implemented a week ago by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) could send firms that are already strapped into deeper crisis.

In a statement yesterday, the Singapore Contractors Association (Scal) said the more stringent measures would worsen the "dire situation for meeting deadlines and financial penalties" for errant firms.

"It will have serious consequences on the viability of the construction firm," said a spokesman.

MOM's new measures require companies found to have poor workplace safety and health standards to stop work for at least three weeks, a week longer than before.

They were aimed at addressing the deteriorating workplace safety that has seen 28 workers die on the job between January and April, six more than in the same period last year. Yet another worker died on Thursday from injuries during construction on the Tuas West Extension of the East-West MRT Line. The Straits Times understands MOM is investigating the incident.

Scal, the industry's largest body, called on stakeholders and the Government "to review the approach taken for construction safety".

Its spokesman said contractors, who face time and cost pressures in completing projects, are not the only ones responsible for worksite safety. Safety measures should be specified as a criterion in tender and procurement processes, he said, noting that "reasonable timelines" and separate budgets for safety should be considered from the get-go.

"Some public sector jobs already have such provisions for safety," said the spokesman.

Under the new measures, companies that have a workplace fatality risk having their work pass privileges temporarily curtailed, so they cannot hire new foreign workers until they resolve safety issues.

Conditions for lifting stop-work orders include compulsory refresher training in weak areas and re-evaluation of the site's work safety and health management system by approved external auditors.

The extra week will cost a firm with 100 workers more than tens of thousands of dollars in salaries - excluding the amount levelled by the developer for missing deadlines.

Meanwhile, contractors "will work closely" with another association, the Construction Industry Joint Committee (CIJC), comprising engineers, architects and developers, to improve workplace safety.

Better-trained workers are another way to avoid accidents, said safety officer Han Wenqi, who has been in the construction industry for 10 years. "Supervisors and assessors should go for refresher courses so they can be better informed about safety practices," said Mr Han.

A spokesman for MOM said yesterday that the new measures are necessary to "push companies with poor safety practices to take immediate action".

MOM will "continue to work closely with the industry, including Scal and CIJC, to improve" workplace safety.

In Thursday's fatal incident, the Singapore Civil Defence Force said it received a call at 4.30pm and deployed an ambulance to the scene in Tuas West Road. A worker was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, it said.

• Additional reporting by Tiffany Fumiko Tay

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'Contractors call for review of approach to workplace safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe