Parliament: All field and high-risk army training to be checked for safety compliance

The Army Safety Inspectorate's Major Simon Chew (at right) carrying out an inspection observed by Singapore Armed Forces Inspector-General Tan Chee Wee (far left, behind) at Pasir Laba Camp on Thursday.
The Army Safety Inspectorate's Major Simon Chew (at right) carrying out an inspection observed by Singapore Armed Forces Inspector-General Tan Chee Wee (left, behind) at Pasir Laba Camp on Thursday.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
The Army Safety Inspectorate's Major Simon Chew (at right) carrying out an inspection observed by Singapore Armed Forces Inspector-General Tan Chee Wee (far left, behind) at Pasir Laba Camp on Thursday.
SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR DEFENCE HENG CHEE HOW

The Singapore Army has made it mandatory for all high-risk and field training to be inspected for safety compliance, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said yesterday.

"We want, through concrete action, to reassure Singaporeans that training safety is a top priority for Mindef (Ministry of Defence) and the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces)," he said.

From next month, the Inspector-General's Office (IGO) will add another layer of safety audits and inspections, in addition to such work already done at the unit, division and formation headquarters, and service levels.

Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee, the newly appointed SAF Inspector-General, said his office would not be duplicating what the service inspectorates are already doing.

Instead, the IGO will look at "weakness areas" so that the inspectorate system can be strengthened, and examine whether there is "a gap between policy, doctrine and implementation", added BG Tan, who assumed the role on Wednesday.

The IGO was set up after Corporal First Class (NS) Aloysius Pang died during a military exercise in New Zealand on Jan 23. It was the fourth training and operations-related fatality reported since September 2017. The deaths caused much disquiet among the public and cast a spotlight on SAF training safety.

BG Tan was speaking to reporters during a media visit on Thursday to Pasir Laba Camp, where he observed an unannounced inspection by Army Safety Inspectorate (ASI) officers of an active armour unit doing small arms live firing at a range - an activity considered "high-risk".

 
 
 

Previously, field training that was not considered high-risk was not subjected to these compulsory detailed checks. Field training is generally more high-risk in nature due to the outfield environment and the complexity of the training.

Such inspections can be conducted by the unit headquarters, the division or formation headquarters, or by the ASI. The ASI conducts about 300 safety audits and training inspections a year.

Colonel Tong Yi Chuen, head of the ASI, said units are generally compliant with regulations, but his officers have observed occasional documentation errors and issues with compliance.

He added that ASI inspectors have the authority to stop training so thatsafety lapses can be rectified.

On how the new safety initiatives can help prevent accidents, BG Tan said his office will try to connect policy and system with behaviour on the ground.

In his speech, Mr Heng said the SAF encourages open reporting, where any serviceman can report near misses, risky behaviour or safety breaches without fear of penalty. He revealed that since last year, the SAF has been developing a mobile app for workplace hazards to be shared instantly.

Servicemen can take photographs of hazards, such as sharp wire fittings, and the app will inform safety officers so that action can be taken. Others nearby will also be informed via alerts sent to their mobile phones.

The SafeGuardian app will be trialled at naval bases starting this month and implemented in phases for the rest of the SAF.

Lim Min Zhang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2019, with the headline 'All field and high-risk army training to be checked for safety compliance'. Print Edition | Subscribe