SINGAPORE - There has been a sharp rise in the number of reports of near misses, unsafe practices and hazards in the Singapore Armed Forces, but that is a good sign as it indicates a greater likelihood of better safety outcomes, said a top official who reviews safety in the military.
Between 2018 and last year, the number of these reports went up by 49 per cent, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) on Thursday (Nov 5).
These reports, which number in the thousands, were made through avenues such as a safety hotline, appointed safety advocates in units, or through the chain of command to superiors.
Mr Heng Chiang Gnee, chairman of the second External Review Panel on SAF Safety (ERPSS), told reporters at a military event on Thursday: "I have seen the statistics, an increase year on year of 49 per cent is really good. So these are to me leading indicators."
Such indicators could be actions or programmes that ought to be done, and monitored on the frequency which they are taking place, he said, adding that they are an alternative to looking at safety outcomes alone.
"For such indicators, the more you do it, the greater likelihood of a better outcome. So these are things that we have tried to get the SAF to push more."
Better open reporting avenues were among the recommendations of the first ERPSS, formed in 2013 to validate the safety practices in the SAF and determine if they match up with best practices of industries and other armed forces.
Mr Heng, a non-executive director at oil and gas company MMA Offshore with long experience in the field of health and safety, was also a member of the first ERPSS. "We found then that more could be done in that area. So the SAF has taken it on board, and has pushed that with very good outcomes."
He was speaking to reporters during a visit to the Island Defence Training Institute at Clementi Camp to observe operationally-ready national servicemen (NSmen) training for homeland security operations.
Training safety in the SAF came under the spotlight last year, when NSman and actor Aloysius Pang died after being injured while on a live firing exercise in New Zealand.
Among the measures taken to improve safety since then was the setting up of the high-level Inspector-General's Office in February last year to scrutinise safety practices at all levels.
The office, which reports to Mindef's Permanent Secretary and the Chief of Defence Force, taps the expertise of external safety professionals, like those on the panel that Mr Heng heads.
He described health and safety management as "a movement and a journey", in which the more gaps are identified, the more likely for improvements to be made faster.
He said from his observations, the fundamentals are in place in terms of ownership of this issue at the top level.
"The challenge for the army is to see how best they can bring that ownership right down to the last man," he said, adding that he has seen a lot of effort being put in over the last three years.
Thursday's visit is the ninth the panel has made to SAF units and exercises since it was convened in 2017.
Among its roles is to assess the SAF's safety management systems and give feedback on best practices from the civilian sector.
During the visit, they were briefed on the SAF's measures to enhance training safety and strengthen safety culture, as well as the improvements observed.
The third ERPSS will be convened in January next year.
The panel had nine members in 2017, but three more were added in 2018 after the panel's role was expanded for it to take part in and review the results of Committees of Inquiries.
Asked for her observations on the SAF's safety system, panel member Kala Anandarajah said she now has a deep insight on how seriously the army takes safety.
"Sometimes, to a member of the public, to a parent, everything in and around the SAF is shrouded in secrecy," said the partner at law firm Rajah and Tann.
"But having been able to come in, what strikes me is that this is not an unsafe place. This is not going to be a risky environment that we send our sons to."