Budget debate: MOM inspecting 500 firms that may have combustible dust hazards after Tuas fire, says Zaqy Mohamad

Three workers have died after the explosion last Wednesday (Feb 24) in Tuas.
Three workers have died after the explosion last Wednesday (Feb 24) in Tuas.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - Inspections have started on close to 500 companies that may have combustible dust hazards following the Tuas industrial fire, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Wednesday (March 3).

To ensure better workplace safety and health, MOM will also be releasing a framework later this year that emphasises safety performance for public sector construction tenders. This means that safer companies will have better access to business opportunities, said Mr Zaqy during the debate of the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) budget in Parliament. 

He added that the ministry is particularly concerned about the Tuas accident, which occurred on Feb 24 and resulted in three deaths and multiple casualties, making it one of the worst accidents in recent years.

An inquiry committee will also be appointed to thoroughly study the causes, and recommend prevention measures, including policy or regulatory changes if necessary, he said.

"MOM is alarmed at the recent spate of workplace accidents. The ministry is investigating every incident and we call upon the whole industry to seriously review your safety protocols," said Mr Zaqy.

He added: "We acknowledge that companies are facing manpower shortages due to border and pandemic controls.

"Nevertheless, companies must not compromise worker safety by rushing or having workers operate machinery or perform tasks that they are not trained for. They should also review their risk assessments to account for Covid-19 conditions."

He said that since mid-December last year, MOM has stepped up enforcement. Out of 510 inspections since that time, MOM uncovered 486 contraventions and issued seven stop-work orders.

Since last November, two safety time-outs were called to improve safety protocols.

MOM also launched an e-service in January this year to make construction companies' safety track records readily available, to motivate main and sub-contractors to improve their workplace safety.

This is intended to expand to other sectors for service buyers to influence workplace safety and health through their choice of contractors, Mr Zaqy added.

While Singapore has made progress, it cannot be complacent, he said.

Since the Nicoll Highway collapse in 2004, the workplace fatal injury rate here reduced from 4.9 per 100,000 workers to 1.1 per 100,000 workers in 2019.

"This is a level achieved only by a handful of developed countries. Still, we must never be complacent, and must remain committed in our goal of making Singapore one of the safest workplaces in the world."