All have a role in NS safety

Until Corporal First Class Dave Lee Han Xuan, a 19-year-old Guardsman, died during training last month, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had no death from heatstroke in the last nine years.

This was largely because rigorous practices were introduced to reduce the likelihood of such an injury - from mandatory water parades before, during, and after a training activity to temperature-taking before the training.

But, as Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament on Thursday, a strong safety culture and zero-fatality training system can be achieved only if every soldier has an ingrained concern for the well-being of himself and his peers.

When that fails, a system is in place to not only comprehensively investigate how it happened, but also recommend changes so trainees are protected.

The death of three full-time national servicemen in the past year will see some focusing on the criminal investigation.

Following the death of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, 22, who is believed to have drowned at Tuas View Fire Station after a ragging incident, two regular personnel from the Singapore Civil Defence Force were arrested.

Dr Ng pointed out that SAF servicemen have also been charged and punished in the civilian criminal courts. Following a 2012 incident which claimed the life of a soldier, the conducting officer of an exercise was convicted in the criminal courts and sentenced to six months in prison, he said.

Both Dr Ng and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam made clear in their speeches that they do not take lightly the trust that Singaporeans place in national service, and will plug gaps.

Mr Shanmugam said that new measures will be taken against unauthorised activities such as ragging, for example.

As Dr Ng explained, it is an onerous responsibility keeping every son of Singapore safe during their national service training. But it is also the responsibility of every commander and every soldier to ensure training safety is a top priority.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2018, with the headline 'All have a role in NS safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe