Workplace safety ought to be a common goal of all stakeholders, given the considerable economic and social costs of neglect. Yet it often remains a cat-and-mouse undertaking, with a tendency to cut regulatory corners despite the risks. When migrant workers dominate a particular sector, for example, construction, malpractices are more likely to abound, unfortunately. Following a series of deaths when the pace of work was cranked up to meet festive deadlines last year, a Manpower Ministry operation uncovered violations at 90 per cent of the 214 worksites inspected. These included dangerous floorboards and missing scaffolding - omissions even laymen would baulk at but foreign workers might suffer in silence.
Globally, there is wider recognition that occupational safety can be implemented at earlier phases of economic development than has occurred historically. It wouldn't do, therefore, for Singapore to lag behind others in creating safe working conditions for both its resident and migrant workforce. In construction, there has been some improvement in fatality rates since the workplace safety and health performance framework was enhanced in 2005. Still, the 60 deaths in 2014 (compared to 73 fatalities in 2013) were tragic because many accidents that occurred were preventable.
The key to preventing accidents and ill health at work remains both employee awareness and effort - accentuated by proper training - and employer commitment. Especially pernicious are technical aspects of operation which if glossed over can prove deadly, for example, when heavy equipment is not checked and maintained rigorously. Just last month, an excavator bucket became dislodged and fell on a Bangladeshi construction worker guiding the machine operator at the Great World MRT station worksite. One might wonder if this death could have been averted had the crew been better trained.
A universal difficulty is a lack of uniform standards associated with safety knowledge and practices in different sectors. There is even no agreement over what a "health and safety professional" really means, as a Canadian safety consultant observed. Consequently, certification of training comes in many forms (hundreds, in some countries). Here, the training industry has been asked for views on a proposal to raise firms' paid-up capital to $1 million and to have at least one full-time safety trainer with a Diploma in Adult Continuing Education, under the Workforce Skills Qualifications framework. Aiming for higher quality of instruction and consistency of content in related areas would be in the interest of industry professionals, businesses and workers alike. Such steps will help promote a culture of prevention that could over time be extended to contract and temporary workers too, especially in areas like hazard communication and critical record-keeping.