All commanders and medics across the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will evacuate every trainee who cannot respond to simple questions on time, place and identity, in a new training safety regulation (TSR) that takes effect immediately.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen cited the move in Parliament yesterday as part of several measures that the armed forces is adopting to tackle heat injury cases, following the death of Corporal First Class (CFC) Dave Lee Han Xuan on April 30.
"The intent is obvious, and this takes the guesswork out of the assessment and what the reason is, as this case showed, and imposes early evacuation as the default, as a strict TSR to be followed," he said.
To help commanders and soldiers better recognise signs and symptoms of heat injuries, lesson plans on safety will be improved and mandatory questions on heat injury prevention and management will be included in the annual TSR test, added the minister.
More opportunities for make-up training will also be provided so that soldiers will not push themselves beyond safety limits.
"If a soldier feels that he is unwell during any training activity, or if the buddy notices it, soldiers will be reminded to err on the side of caution, to stop and make up training another day," said Dr Ng.
At a media briefing at the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), Brigadier-General Kenneth Liow, commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command (Tradoc), said it is clear that "there is always another day to train, so soldiers would not push themselves unnecessarily even when they are not in the best of health".
Dr Ng said the SAF will strengthen open reporting, where servicemen will be encouraged to report unauthorised activities through a hotline.
Colonel Tong Yi Chuen, head of the Army Safety Inspectorate, said: "When they report any safety violations, we will tell them that the reports will be held in strict confidence. At the same time, we will also advise the soldiers to report up the chain of command." He added that every report will be investigated.
An external review panel on SAF safety recommended that medics should be able to exercise their professional authority on medical issues in dealing with commanders who are much more senior than them.
A report by another external review panel on heat injury management found that the army recorded 25 cases of heat stroke and 137 cases of heat exhaustion from April 2012 to March this year.
Several MPs asked about steps to remove impediments that soldiers may face in voicing their inability to take part in training.
Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun cited how CFC Lee and his platoon mates did not speak up about how they did not have the minimum seven hours of rest as a result of an unauthorised punishment session the night before.
Dr Ng said he would have to check details of the COI to see whether the various platoon members were asked why they did not say they did not have seven hours of sleep.
He said it was likely that the soldiers wanted to carry on with their training, and added that it is important to make it second nature for the trainees to speak up for their own protection and that of others.
Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan and Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) asked about the training of commanders to detect warning signs of heat injuries early and giving them the flexibility to pare down training intensity, especially during hot weather.
Dr Ng referred to the new evacuation procedure and said that temperature is taken into account under a system which determines the work-rest cycles for soldiers.
Lim Min Zhang