Don't neglect fundamental workplace safety alongside Covid-19 measures: Zaqy Mohamad

Migrant workers hold a device that encourages workers to keep at a safe distance from one another through an alarm. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - With all the focus on Covid-19 safe management measures as companies resume operations, firms must not forget the fundamentals of workplace safety, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Thursday (Oct 22).

Ten workplace deaths have been recorded since June 2, he said, with the latest four taking place since September, all in high-risk operations.

While the number of deaths was not higher than usual, there is a concern that workers may be less familiar with safety measures after a period of inactivity, said Mr Zaqy.

Companies may feel an urgency to make up for lost time, but he urged employers to relook safety policies, give workers time to adjust, and conduct refresher training if needed.

"I think it's important to put back measures that we used to have, and ensure that as we restart, while there's sometimes certain pressures to get back on track and to catch up on lost time, this is not at the expense of workers' safety and health.

"So this is one area in which MOM would be stepping up to put in place more enforcement measures, more surveillance on the ground."

There were 16 workplace deaths in the first six months of the year. There were 17 fatalities in the first half of last year, and 22 deaths from last July to December.

The latest four deaths took place in different sectors, including manufacturing and construction, and the causes were also different, said Mr Zaqy.

It was reported earlier this month that a foreign worker died on Oct 15 after he was electrocuted. The 27-year-old Indian national was dismantling an electrical distribution board at 170 Still Road.

Mr Zaqy said that other than visiting workplaces, MOM will also be sending out advisories and alerts to all employers.

"When workers have been out for some time, managers and site supervisors need to really sit down, rework the process, take stock of the more risky work to be done, and how that applies under the new safe measures," he added.

Mr Zaqy was speaking after a visit to a construction worksite at Chinese Garden, where the Chinese and Japanese Gardens are being spruced up.

The project, managed by Kuan Aik Hong Construction, started in November last year, but work was mostly halted during the two-month circuit breaker period from April to June.

To ensure the safety of its workers, Kuan Aik Hong has implemented measures such as having each worker wear a safe distancing device that beeps when two devices come within a preset distance with each other, such as 1m.

The firm's 220 workers on-site are also segregated into three zones. Workers from different zones are not allowed to interact, and have to stay at different dorms.

In terms of construction work safety, a hydraulic static ring pile breaker is used instead of a pneumatic drill, which is safer for workers and also reduces their exposure to noise and dust pollution.

Kuan Aik Hong Construction general manager Fabian Loi said that while there is always pressure to catch up with work schedules, safety still comes first.

"In such mitigating circumstances, there's some contract allowances where we can claim for time and cost. However, I think we should still not rush work without considering safety," he told reporters.

He added that the number of on-site supervisors has been increased.

"They not only do supervision to improve safety, but also provide a listening ear to workers... We think that mental health well being is as important as physical safety."

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