Workplace deaths and injuries have reached worrying levels and it is timely that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has announced a slate of new measures that aims to get companies and bosses to think harder about how they treat workers and keep them safe. The ministry has imposed a six-month heightened safety period during which, if it finds serious lapses such as unsafe workplace conditions or poor risk controls following serious or fatal workplace accidents, companies may be barred from hiring new foreign employees for up to three months. Chief executives may also be required to account personally to MOM and take responsibility for rectifications.
During this heightened safety period, companies in higher-risk sectors must conduct a safety timeout, which will be mandatory for the first time. This affects all companies in the construction, manufacturing, marine, process or transport and storage industries, as well as companies in other industries which use heavy or industrial vehicles, such as lorries and forklifts. The ministry also introduced targeted measures for the construction sector from Oct 1. These include a new harmonised set of disqualification criteria and a revised demerit point system. More demerit points will be issued for safety breaches. Errant companies with consistently poor performance will reach the penalty thresholds more quickly, after which they will be barred from hiring foreign employees for up to two years. The National Trades Union Congress has welcomed MOM's latest initiative and suggested ways in which the regulatory infrastructure could be strengthened further. The message must be clear: that every workplace death is one too many, and that too many have occurred this year - 36 already, compared with 37 for all of last year.