MOM to work closely with employers to manage risk of infectious diseases spreading at work

The panel recommended that employers make their expectations for communications after office hours clear to employees.
The panel recommended that employers make their expectations for communications after office hours clear to employees.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will work closely with employers and building owners to better manage the risks of infectious diseases spreading at the workplace, while continuing to stay vigilant in preventing workplace accidents.

Mental health support will also be enhanced, with the MOM launching an online assessment tool called iWorkHealth early next year, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad during his closing speech at the Singapore Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Conference, held virtually on Wednesday (Nov 18).

These were recommendations made by the International Advisory Panel (IAP) for WSH for a post-Covid-19 world and have been accepted by the Government, he said.

Mr Zaqy noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way businesses operate. For example, those in non-essential service sector have had to adopt technology to facilitate staff working from home.

"With the workplace moving into homes and online spaces, WSH must also adjust to address new perspectives and concerns that may emerge," said Mr Zaqy.

Given the risk of a "disease X" that may be more infectious and lethal than Covid-19, the IAP recommended the MOM build on its experience working with public health authorities through the multi-ministry task force to integrate infectious disease management in the workplace within WSH, he added.

"The Government will work closely with employers and building owners to develop requirements and guidelines, such as sharing information with industry on transmission hot spots, for more targeted risk identification and interventions," said Mr Zaqy.

The IAP also recommended the Government to enhance mental health support at the workplace, with companies encouraged to incorporate mental well-being as part of their risk assessment and management frameworks.

To help employers identify work stressors, the MOM is currently piloting the assessment tool iWorkHealth, which will be launched and made available to employers for free early next year, said Mr Zaqy.

The IAP also recommended that employers make their expectations for communications after office hours clear to employees, instead of implementing rigid rules that may inadvertently add to workers' stress.

This was the approach taken by tripartite partners in the advisory for mental well-being at workplaces released on Tuesday, said Mr Zaqy.



Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad speaking at a tripartite panel discussion during the Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Conference on Nov 18, 2020. PHOTO: TRIPARTITE ALLIANCE

Lastly, the IAP also urged companies to maintain vigilant in preventing workplace accidents, even as they manage new risks brought about by Covid-19.

Mr Zaqy said companies and employees may have overlooked the fundamentals of risk assessment and accident prevention practices as Covid-19 measures were implemented at the workplace after the end of the circuit breaker.

"This may explain why injuries continued to happen despite reductions in business and work activities for a substantial period in 2020," he added.

In the first half of this year, there were 16 workplace fatalities, 201 major injuries and 4,779 minor injuries. In comparison, there were 17 fatalities, 319 major injuries and 6,294 minor injuries in the same period last year.

To combat this, the IAP called for the development of an approved code of practice to educate and engage company directors on their responsibilities and ways to ensure WSH risks are effectively managed.

Workers are also urged to cooperate with their employers and play their part in managing WSH risks, said Mr Zaqy.

He added that companies can tap technology such as virtual and augmented reality to manage both accident and Covid-19 risks at the same time, without the need for spending more money or using more manpower.