Don't neglect workplace safety amid Covid-19 measures, firms urged

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad (right) speaking with migrant workers while visiting a construction worksite at the Chinese Garden yesterday. As part of safe management measures amid the coronavirus pandemic, the workers each wear
Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad (right) speaking with migrant workers while visiting a construction worksite at the Chinese Garden yesterday. As part of safe management measures amid the coronavirus pandemic, the workers each wear a safe distancing device (above) that beeps when two devices come within a preset distance of each other, such as 1m.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

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 yesterday.

Ten workplace deaths have been recorded since June 2, he said, with the latest four taking place last month and this. The four cases occurred in high-risk operations.

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

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," he said.

"So this is one area where MOM (Ministry of Manpower) will 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 this year.

Last year, there were 17 in the first half and 22 in the second half.

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

A 27-year-old Indian national died last week after he was electrocuted while dismantling an electrical distribution board at 170 Still Road.

Mr Zaqy said that besides 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, and take stock of the more risky work to be done and how that applies under the new safe measures," he said.

Mr Zaqy was speaking after a visit to a construction worksite at the Chinese Garden, which is being spruced up along with the Japanese Garden.

The project, managed by Kuan Aik Hong Construction, started last November, but work was mostly halted during the two-month circuit breaker - from April to June - to stem the spread of Covid-19.

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 of 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 in different dormitories.

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

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

The firm's number of on-site supervisors has been increased, he added. "They not only do supervision to improve safety, but also provide a listening ear to workers... We think mental health well-being is as important as physical safety."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2020, with the headline 'Don't neglect workplace safety amid Covid-19 measures, firms urged'. Subscribe