Insurers can help make workplaces safer

Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said the information in the insurers' joint database could motivate companies to keep their workers safe and healthy while lowering their insurance costs.
Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said the information in the insurers' joint database could motivate companies to keep their workers safe and healthy while lowering their insurance costs.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

International panel says they can share info on firms with bad safety records

Private insurers can do more to promote workplace safety by sharing information on firms with poor safety records.

This was among the recommendations made by an international advisory panel on workplace safety and health (WSH).

Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan, who was a member of the panel, said insurance firms could set up a joint database of the companies they insure, so that employers with poor safety records are less able to downplay their risk profiles.

"This way, companies will be motivated to keep their workers safe and healthy while lowering their insurance costs," he said.

The eight-member panel of global experts and government representatives met this week for the fifth time and yesterday it presented its recommendations at the biennial WSH Conference.

THREAT OF BLACKLISTING

These companies need to make it clear that if the sub-contractors violate safety, they will not be contracted again.

'' DR WALTER EICHENDORF, president of the German Road Safety Council, on how the main contractors have a legal responsibility to all workers under them, including those hired by sub-contractors.

The event was held at the Suntec City Convention Centre. More than 1,000 people, including experts, employers and government officials, attended the conference.

Mr Tan, speaking at the end of the two-day meeting yesterday, said the recommendations have been accepted by the Government.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, in his opening speech on Wednesday, said 48 people have died at work so far this year. The workplace fatality rate is set to rise to 2.2 out of 100,000 workers, up from 1.8 in 2014 and 1.9 last year, he added.

The panel urged large construction firms to use their positions as industry leaders to make sub-contractors raise safety standards.

Panel member Walter Eichendorf, discussing the recommendations, said in the past 12 months, construction projects worth more than $10 million - a fifth of the worksites in Singapore - were responsible for 80 per cent of major and fatal injuries.

Dr Eichendorf, who is president of the German Road Safety Council, said the main contractors have a legal responsibility to all workers involved in a project, including those hired by sub-contractors.

"These companies need to make it clear that if the sub-contractors violate safety, they will not be contracted again," he added.

The panel also said firms should implement reporting not just of accidents, but also near misses, which could provide insights on how to prevent fatalities.

Another panel member, Mr Kevin Myers of the International Association of Labour Inspection, said employers must tackle the culture of fear around near-miss reporting. "Workers need to know it won't be held against them, but that they'll get a pat on the back."

When asked if some firms might baulk at the added costs of investigating near misses - given today's economic challenges - Mr Myers said: "In the long run, it will make processes more efficient and improve business performance."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Insurers can help make workplaces safer'. Print Edition | Subscribe