Coronavirus: Physical dividers in lorry to ensure safe distance between workers not secure, say MOM and LTA

The authorities asked the company to review its plan.
The authorities asked the company to review its plan.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

SINGAPORE - A plan by a company to install partitions in the back of a lorry to ensure safe distancing while workers are being transported during the Covid-19 outbreak has not been given the green light by the authorities, even as a video of the vehicle made the rounds online.

The authorities explained that the set-up was not secure and asked the company to review its plan.

The clip was part of a demonstration video and proposal sent by a local construction firm to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for consultation on Tuesday (May 12), MOM and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) told The Straits Times in a joint statement on Thursday (May 14).

It is understood that the clip was taken in the workshop of the company, Shin Khai Construction, and shows a lorry's rear carriage with dividers to separate seated workers. The set-up has not been put to use.

After the video was posted online, it drew criticism from some netizens, who said that the way the workers had to sit in compartments was undignified. Some added that the workers could be at a higher risk of injury should an accident occur.

However, some said the partitions are a cost-effective way for the company to continue transporting its employees.

Last month, the Government announced tighter safe distancing measures to reduce the local spread of Covid-19. The measures aim to significantly cut physical movement and interactions of people. This means that employers and lorry owners must adopt safe distancing measures at the back of lorries.

MOM and LTA said on Thursday that the ministry contacted the company on Wednesday about the video and said that the lorry's proposed partition set-up was not secure.

"MOM and LTA have collectively assessed that any sudden movement while travelling on the roads might dislodge the partitions and endanger occupants as well as other road users," the authorities said.

They added that they have informed the company of their assessment and advised it to review its plan.

Shin Khai Construction on Thursday acknowledged in a Facebook post the concerns of netizens and apologised for the matter.

"The company was trying to find solutions in the midst of this crisis and the partitioned lorry arrangement in the demo video was one of them," the company said.

The post states that the company is facing difficulties as it has to conform with safe distancing rules, and its lorry capacity has been reduced from 23 people to six.

Shin Khai said it was advised to carry out more trips to ferry its workers if the need arises.

 
 
 

The post also stated that the company had proposed its lorry partition design to the authorities in the hope of raising its passenger capacity from six people to 12.

This would allow the company to reduce waiting times for workers and preventing delays, among other things, it said.

When contacted, Shin Khai Construction clarified that no incident resulted from the lorry partition arrangement as it was a just prototype.

"However, as it is a prototype, we are unable to provide any more comments (currently)," the company added. It also thanked people for their feedback on the issue.

Commenting on the lorry video, migrant advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) said that migrant workers should be transported to work by the same means expected for any Singaporean.

 
 
 

"We cannot treat them like cattle or livestock," said a Home spokesman. "Employers should charter buses if public transport is inaccessible, inconvenient or beyond the workers' means."

On the lorry video, labour MP Zainal Sapari said while he understood the company's intention, but  it had to ensure that the proposal was in line with guidelines.

"Should there be an accident, I can understand why there are some concerns that such a structure might make it more dangerous for the passenger. I personally feel that such partitions might not be necessary," he said.

Mr Zainal added that the company should ensure the necessary safeguards for its workers, such as taking their temperature, ensuring they wear masks, and advising them to maintain a safe distance during the journey.