Little things can make big difference in workplace safety

Cutting corners a reason behind spike in slips, trips and falls: Experts

When workers at Lih Ming Construction installed underground gas pipes near the Gardens by the Bay, a road diversion sign had to be put up. And as the work needed to be done at night, a colleague worked under the dim glow of street lights to set up the signs.

He failed to see a wobbly, poorly secured drain cover, fell and sprained his right ankle. He was given five days of medical leave.

That was in 2015. Today, Lih Ming Construction ensures that workers who labour at night do so under brighter lights and wear $70 safety boots with a better grip than their previous $9 rubber boots.

"The investment is worth it because no similar accidents have occurred since," Lih Ming's safety coordinator Damien Tan told The Straits Times. "Every life is precious. With proper precautions, every accident can be avoided."

Workplace safety has come under the spotlight, as the latest report from the Workplace Safety and Health Institute, released this week, showed that injuries at work rose by 5 per cent last year, despite increased safety inspections and stricter enforcement.

In all, 12,948 workers were injured, an increase from 12,285 in 2015.

A large part of it is due to a spike in the number of slips, trips and falls. There were 3,488 such cases, 15 per cent more than the 3,016 cases in the year before.

The number of workplace fatalities, however, stayed unchanged at 66.

Companies and safety experts interviewed blamed the rise in the number of workers injured at work last year to little things that can be avoided.

These include tired and overworked workers who then slip up, as well as employers who take shortcuts.

"People are more focused on reducing deaths and major injuries. They fail to realise that the minor things matter too," said Mr V. Manimaran, operations manager of scaffolding company Wee Chwee Huat.

Many workers and employers fail to realise that things perceived as minor, such as a wet floor at worksites, can be safety issues, he said.

"A hundred people could walk up and down a wet surface and not fall, but you, the 101st person, could be the unlucky one who falls and hits his head."

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics acting executive director Jolovan Wham believes that the higher number of injury cases can be traced to workers having to work long hours, seven days a week.

Mr Wham said that some are also afraid to point out safety lapses as they fear being blacklisted or sent home by their employers.

Contractors who take shortcuts to save money are another concern, said safety officer Han Wenqi.

For instance, some use ladders instead of renting an elevated work platform machine to do work on ceilings.

Mr Han said that a culture of safety needs to be inculcated, starting with individuals and businesses choosing contractors with good safety records.

"If you always pick the one with the lowest bid, logically speaking, this will tend to be the guy who cuts corners," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'Little things can make big difference in workplace safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe