Spate of worksite deaths sparks safety blitz

Workers at a construction site.
Workers at a construction site. PHOTO: ST FILE

MOM steps up enforcement after 9 people died on the job last month, inspectors to check 500 sites over 4 weeks

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will be conducting a workplace safety blitz over the next four weeks, after nine people died on the job last month.

In the past 10 years, the highest number of workplace deaths in the first six months of each year is 36 - in 2009 - which works out to an average of six a month.

Just last week, a 39-year-old Chinese national died in hospital after a toppled excavator's concrete bucket struck him at a worksite in Tampines.

"We are stepping up our enforcement efforts," said an MOM spokesman yesterday, noting that the ministry is concerned about the recent spate of workplace deaths.

He added that investigations are ongoing, but preliminary findings are that "ineffective implementation of risk assessments, absence of fall protection plans and/or unsafe work procedures" played a role in the recent deaths.

In the coming blitz, inspectors will look out for errant supervisory practices, improperly trained workers and poor risk management at 500 worksites, the ministry said.

The onus is thus on employers to ensure that their workers undergo legitimate training. Errant firms can be fined and stop-work orders can be issued to sites.

The new blitz comes on the back of another raid, nicknamed Operation Cormorant, that ended less than two months ago.

There were over 1,900 violations - resulting in fines totalling about $450,000 - in that operation, which lasted two months. More than 1,150 workplaces were checked and stop-work orders were slapped on 14 sites.

Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo said his organisation will remind its members to stay vigilant on safety and "not to cut corners".

"Historically, there's a rush to finish work during the festive season," he said.

Safety officer Han Wenqi, who has been in the construction industry for 10 years, said accidents can be avoided if workers are properly trained and the management has a strong stance on safety. "It is about safety knowledge and culture."

The MOM had targeted the practices at safety training centres and cancelled the licences of eight errant centres last year, The Straits Times reported previously.

In 2014, six licences were revoked and before that, there had never been more than one cancellation a year.

This year, as of Jan 21, one training centre had seen its accreditation revoked.

Malpractices include letting workers copy answers and issuing forged certificates.

As for worksites, anyone who does not meet the safety requirements under the Workplace Safety and Health Act may be prosecuted by the MOM.

Convicted companies face a maximum fine of $500,000, while individuals may be fined up to $200,000 and jailed for up to 24 months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2016, with the headline 'Spate of worksite deaths sparks safety blitz'. Print Edition | Subscribe