The Straits Times says

Workplace safety as a common good

The collapse of the upcoming Pan-Island Expressway viaduct last month cast a telling shadow over workplace safety. Given the scale of the accident, which claimed a worker's life and hurt 10 others, it is natural that the tragedy recalled the collapse of Nicoll Highway in 2004, which killed four workers and injured three others. It is reassuring that workplace safety numbers improved dramatically from 2004 to 2014 before beginning to dip in 2015 and last year. The good news is that there was a plunge in workplace deaths and injuries in the first half of this year. There were 19 deaths, a dive from the 42 recorded in the same period last year, and the number of injured workers slipped from 6,245 to 6,151 in the same period. Yet, while these numbers give statistical satisfaction, every death is one too many, and injuries in the thousands must occasion a commensurate degree of national soul-searching. What is at stake is Singapore's reputation as a country which takes seriously the fate of manual workers, whether they are local or foreign.

Hence the need for stronger measures to deter workplace accidents. These are in the works. The Ministry of Manpower is reviewing the Workplace Safety and Health Act to introduce even more strict measures to deter worksite accidents and raise the maximum penalties for offences that result in serious injuries or deaths. The review, which began earlier this year, is expected to be completed by the year end. This move puts employers on notice that workplace casualties are not considered to be things that occur unfortunately but are treated as serious lapses that the force of law will punish, with increasing severity if necessary. This is the only way in which the authorities can keep ahead of businesses that seek to cut safety corners. Punctuality and profit, while necessary in themselves, cannot be allowed to prevail over life and limb.

Yet, responsibility for safety cannot fall solely on businesses but must extend to workers themselves. They must be socialised into following safety rules without the need to impress their bosses through sheer speed and efficiency. At the same time, employers should encourage a work culture in which foreign workers, in particular, understand that Singapore treats workplace safety seriously, no matter what the safety culture might be back home. The cases of maids who fell to their deaths while cleaning the windows of high-rise flats are a lesson in the display of a deadly readiness to please. It has no place in Singapore.

Looking ahead, expert opinion has identified vehicular safety as an area of concern given the incidence of accidents. Another issue is occupational diseases, led by hearing loss, work-related musculoskeletal problems and skin diseases. Employers and employees need to treat these concerns seriously to keep deaths and injuries in check.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'Workplace safety as a common good'. Print Edition | Subscribe