New workers, tight deadlines may be factors in recent spate of workplace accidents: Experts

Singapore is facing its worst spate of workplace deaths since 2016. The construction sector accounts for 10 of them. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - An outflow of experienced workers, coupled with tight delivery timelines amid the pandemic could be contributing factors to a recent rise in workplace accidents and deaths, said industry experts.

Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council general manager Christopher Koh said feedback from companies indicated that the reopening of borders has resulted in firms facing greater challenges in supervising their workers.

He said: "Right now, firms have access to new workers because the borders are open, but they tend to be less experienced and require more supervision.

"Consequently, more experienced workers are eager to go home since they haven't been back in a long time, and so it creates a manpower constraint, which firms may not be able to adequately supervise."

Nevertheless, he stressed that management had to be responsible for ensuring that safety standards were being upheld, but added that he was optimistic the situation would stabilise eventually.

Mr Koh was speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of a Singapore Contractors Association's (Scal) annual event aimed at raising safety standards in the construction sector on Thursday (June 23).

Scal represents more than 3,000 construction firms and allied businesses.

Singapore is facing its worst spate of workplace deaths since 2016 - 27 so far this year - with the construction sector accounting for 10 of them.

More than 200 major injuries were reported in the first four months of the year.

Representatives from the sector and safety professionals discussed ways to reduce workplace safety incidents in sharing sessions at the event.

Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction assistant operations manager Mathiarasan Subramaniam said employers have a role to play in helping their workers who face mental stress as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the mental stress could distract them from their work, resulting in lapses, citing how some workers were unable to resolve marital problems or land disputes back home due to their inability to leave Singapore.

To tackle mental health issues, he said his firm conducts group sessions for workers to voice out any problems they face, which he said helps to show that "we are here for them".

He added: "The main issue here is sometimes companies treat them as employees. I feel that we should treat them like a family, because they are leaving their entire family back home and coming here to earn a living.

"If we do not give them assurances with a personal touch, they will feel like they are strangers and that will affect their mental state and how they work with us."

At the event, Kwan Yong Construction was recognised for its efforts to promote safety with its development of integrated modular link bridges at its work site in Serangoon Road.

Typically, link bridges would be assembled at a height, with workers perched on gondolas having to plaster it and paint it.

To minimise the risk to workers, the firm managed to combine the separate parts into two modules, which can be pre-assembled on the ground and lifted up the air once ready.

The effort won the company the gold award for Scal's WSH Innovation Awards.

Mr Seah Kok Hua, senior manager at Samwoh Corporation, said during his sharing session that his firm conducts regular competency assessments for appointment holders and incorporates a buddy system for new workers to learn from more experienced ones.

He added: "It's very important to have our workers continue to be trained and enhanced so that they are able to perform the job safely and productively."

This year's event, themed "Workplace Safety And Health Depends On Us", also touched on dengue prevention tips at construction sites and the need to keep workers active and well-hydrated.

Scal president Ng Yek Meng said the event is "to remind us that safety is everyone's responsibility and remains the top priority for the entire construction industry".

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