Minister issues warning over worksite safety

He vows harsh penalties for errant bosses following spate of accidents

No sooner had Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin expressed dismay yesterday at a string of workplace accidents that left eight men dead this month, than yet another tragedy occurred.

The month's death toll rose to nine when a worker died and 10 others were injured at a Sentosa construction site, when the boarded structure for pouring concrete, or formwork, collapsed.

The news left him saying such incidents cannot continue, and he served notice that those who do not take safety seriously will be punished. "I am appalled that there has been yet another serious accident involving formwork," he said in a blog post.

Construction companies have to get their jobs done responsibly because lives are at stake, he said.

"There should not be any more grim reminders of the need for safe practices," he said. "We will investigate the accident thoroughly, and we will take strong actions to address these accidents. Irresponsible contractors who cut corners just to rush construction jobs will face harsh penalties under the law, including imprisonment."

In his earlier blog post before the Sentosa incident, Mr Tan said he had ordered his ministry to investigate this year's accidents thoroughly and review two programmes on safety.

"In my discussions with my colleagues from our Occupational Safety and Health Division, I have found that in every case, the accidents could have been avoided," he said.

He has asked the division to find out what led to the accidents and recommend ways to prevent such incidents from happening again. He has also asked it to review two existing programmes that cover workplace safety. These are the Business Under Surveillance Programme which regulates poor-performing companies, and the Demerit Points System which penalises construction firms for safety breaches.

The reviews will be carried out over the coming months, and aim to help companies assess and improve their workplace safety and health systems.

This month's accidents happened despite measures taken to strengthen the workplace inspection regime, he added.

On Jan 18, the ministry issued an advisory to professional engineers "to remind them of their obligations to carry out proper design, inspections and supervision of formwork construction and concreting processes".

Construction site checks have also been stepped up since Jan20. Out of 42 inspections in the past week, stop-work orders have been issued for four of them.

Mr Tan noted that contractors under pressure to meet deadlines may adopt unsafe work procedures to speed up, but this cannot be condoned. "I want to make it clear that, tight timelines or otherwise, there is no excuse for cutting corners or sacrificing workers' safety or their lives," he said.