Forum: Improve quality of personnel responsible for workplace safety

I refer to National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong's call for a dedicated workplace safety and health monitor at each worksite (Tuas explosion: 3 workers dead, 5 in critical condition, Feb 26).

He said having this person would be more effective than the inspections conducted by the Manpower Ministry now.

I have been a certified safety practitioner in the construction industry for more than 20 years and I would like to share some observations.

In the construction industry, there is already a dedicated safety officer at each worksite. Yet every year, the construction sector contributes one of the highest numbers of fatal accidents.

In the construction industry, many of the safety officers are Employment Pass holders, and in some companies, even S Pass holders. Such officers would be beholden to the company that employs them, making it hard for them to perform to the best of their ability.

The company could decide to terminate or not renew their work passes should they recommend measures that are effective but costly to implement, and engage a "more obedient" safety practitioner.

Another related factor would be communication skills of safety officers who are S Pass holders. In many instances, they are not able to articulate themselves well, and cannot carry out an effective safety programme to address lapses at the worksite. How then can they command the respect and authority needed to effectively implement safety programmes on site?

The current Workforce Skills Qualifications pathway has helped to generate more safety professionals, but it is time for the authorities to review the system and raise the standard and quality of workplace safety and health personnel.

But workplace safety is not the sole responsibility of the safety and health officer. If we are to improve safety at workplaces, we must address the root causes of injuries and fatalities.

To that end, I am glad that an inquiry committee will be convened to look into the Tuas blast. Hopefully, this will help raise safety standards.

Bernard Chua

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