SINGAPORE - Changing the rules for how companies transport their workers now will cause acute pain to the construction industry and lead to delayed projects and the loss of jobs, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor on Monday (May 10).
Many proposals, such as installing seat belts on lorries and using vans, have also already been studied by a work group more than a decade ago and continue to have operational constraints, she added.
Dr Khor, responding to questions in Parliament from MPs following three recent accidents that injured and killed workers, said the Government will continue working with the union and firms to refine laws, without committing to specific changes to regulations in the interim.
She raised cost and practical constraints that have stymied more radical changes in worker transport in the past 10 years.
"Let me reiterate again that passenger safety is very important. We agree with that. Every fatality and every injury is one too many and we do want to continue to strive to enhance and preserve the safety of our workers. But this is a multi-faceted issue with many ramifications," she said.
"Even as we consider all these issues, we need to be also mindful that we need to find a balanced and calibrated approach in order to preserve the safety of workers as well as their livelihoods."
She said that for instance, using vans with smaller capacities instead of lorries could create driver fatigue as more trips would have to be made to move workers from one site to another.
Retrofitting seat belts on lorries will also not work because this is not suited to the design of lorries, and rear deck floorboards might not be strong enough to keep seat belts anchored in the event of a crash.
Further reducing the speed limit of lorries will also increase the speed differential between lorries and other vehicles, which could actually increase the risk of accidents due to the increased tendency for other drivers to overtake.
"The review that we are undertaking will consider all views and suggestions," Dr Khor added.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) last week said that the number of people injured or killed while on board lorries has fallen over the years, especially since canopies and higher railings on lorries were made mandatory by the Government in 2010 and 2011.
Dr Khor on Monday cited further statistics. While an average of nine people a year were killed while on board lorries from 2011 to 2015, the corresponding figure had dropped to 2.6 per year from 2016 to 2020, she said.
Injury rates for lorries are also comparable to that for all motor vehicles. The ministry's statistics for all motor vehicles, however, included that for motorcycles, which disproportionately contribute to fatality and injury rates.
In a separate table provided by the Ministry of Transport, the number of people who died while on board lorries are two in 2016, five in 2017, one in 2018, two in 2019 and three in 2020.
The number of people injured while on board lorries are 493 in 2016, 497 in 2017, 500 in 2018, 416 in 2019 and 227 in 2020.
Accidents rates last year were significantly lower due to lower traffic volumes amid Covid-19 restrictions.
Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) asked if Singapore can study those countries that have outlawed using goods vehicles for transporting people to see how they have overcome the different constraints. The Transport Ministry and LTA had cited the United States, Canada and Thailand as countries that also allow for passengers to be ferried in the rear deck of goods vehicles.
Dr Khor replied: "International practices are varied... Our challenges are not unique and they probably have similar challenges. I agree that even as we undertake a review, we will look. We will consult the stakeholders in industries and also look at various practices and technologies."
National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong had said in a blog post on Sunday that the union will push for different transport arrangements for workers, particularly on buses that are equipped with seat belts.
He also made four suggestions that he called "interim safety measures": to have a dedicated, licensed driver to ferry migrant workers to various work sites; to outlaw transporting goods and passengers together in the same space on vehicles; to clamp down on speeding; and seat belts on lorries.