Parliament: Safe management measures in workplaces need to be fine-tuned, say MPs

Employers are also concerned about having to bear the costs of Covid-19 swab tests that some workers have to undertake. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The importance of having good workplace safety and health practices has increased in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, but such measures need to be fine-tuned to ensure that they can be implemented effectively, said MPs.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday (June 4) during the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget, three MPs came up with suggestions on how such measures can be improved, including giving business more support with compliance costs.

Employers and regulators should also be mindful of the approach taken in setting out and implementing such measures, so as not to compromise workers' safety, said Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

For instance, in the construction and marine engineering sectors, mask-wearing could affect the ability of workers to carry out physically demanding work safely. In other types of work that require clear communication and coordinated teamwork, speaking through a mask and keeping a distance from others may also lead to a higher risk of workplace accidents.

"Whichever the approach, safe management measures must not inadvertently cause poor safety at the workplace," said Mr Yong.

Mr Yong and Nominated MP Douglas Foo, who is president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF), also highlighted how businesses may face higher compliance costs. Mr Foo said that while a majority of businesses surveyed by the SMF agree that health and safety are their top priority, implementing such measures will also lead to an increase in operational costs.

Some SMF members have also seen almost four-fold increase in monthly cleaning expenses, he noted. Companies also have to maintain their own inventory of personal protective equipment that will likely be required for daily operations for an extended period, added Mr Foo.

Employers are also concerned about having to bear the costs of Covid-19 swab tests that some workers have to undertake, said Mr Yong, highlighting how nursing home and pre-school staff now have to go through such tests before returning to work. In the construction sector, workers are also required to be tested once every two weeks. The Building and Construction Authority had said in May that the Government will waive the cost of swab tests for construction workers until August, for those involved in works resuming by then.

"Many businesses are already reeling from the increasing costs of putting in place the ever-evolving set of protective measures to keep workplaces safe ...Coupled with a sharp decline in revenue, our businesses are hit with a double whammy," said Mr Yong.

Mr Foo also appealed to policymakers to ensure that regulatory bodies have enough staff and resources so that approvals that are required for businesses to start or resume operations do not end up hindering efficiency.

Nominated MP Arasu Duraisamy, who is also the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary for financial affairs, said that while such safe management measures may bring about some inconveniences, businesses understand that they are necessary.

The NTUC has been working with the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute and NTUC LearningHub to train union leaders, management partners and union staff as safe management officers, he said. This will help union leaders work with their management partners to coordinate and implement measures on the ground.

"Each one of us must do our part in adhering to these measures, and I hope that more companies can come on board and get trained so that businesses can continue to operate safely and workers can work in a safe environment."

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