Firms urged to take safety time-out after 10 workplace deaths in April

There were 10 workplace fatalities in April, bringing the total number of workplace deaths in 2022 to 20. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Companies are being urged to impose a safety time-out from Monday (May 9), on the back of a spate of workplace fatalities across several sectors.

They should use the time to review safety management systems and learn from past accidents, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council, National Trades Union Congress and industry partners, in a joint statement on Sunday.

There were 10 workplace fatalities last month, bringing the total number of workplace deaths in 2022 to 20 - the highest number of fatalities for the same period since 2016.

Each time-out involves a firm taking a pause from work so that senior management can engage workers and unions on WSH processes, and act on any issues that may arise.

Firms should also review risk assessments, and ensure that workers implement risk controls as well as have WSH training relevant to their roles.

Companies have also been asked to familiarise workers with learning points from recent fatal accidents and sensitise them to hazardous situations, to avoid a repeat of these accidents.

The safety time-out is expected to last two weeks, and will have two focus areas.

The first is working safely at heights, which includes working on fragile surfaces and the use of ladders.

The second is the safe use of equipment such as forklifts.

Responding to queries, the WSH Council said there is no fixed duration for time-outs, but the council is recommending that companies hold their time-out within two weeks from Monday as it wants them to take swift action. 

“We also want to avoid a situation where companies hold their time-out towards the end date if the (time-out window) is longer... and an accident happens in the meantime,” it said.

The council added that time-outs are not enforceable and are meant to be industry-led. Firms can decide how long they will pause for, and on what basis they may resume work, said the council.

Seven industry associations will be taking part in the time-out.

They are: the Association of Process Industry, Association of Property and Facility Managers, Association of Singapore Marine Industries, Singapore Contractors Association Limited (Scal), Singapore International Facility Management Association, Singapore Logistics Association and Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF).

Following the safety time-out, employees should be briefed on findings and on any improvements that will be implemented.

The statement said: "Of the 20 fatal cases in 2022 so far, it is very concerning that seven of them were similar in nature to cases that occurred in 2021."

Three cases involved forklifts, two involved falls from ladders and two involved falls through fragile surfaces.

The statement added: "Preliminary investigations revealed that a common factor among these fatalities was that basic safety and health control measures - such as wearing of seat belts in forklifts or fall protection gear while working at heights - were either inadequate or not in place at all.

"Lives would have been saved if these well-established control measures were taken."

NTUC assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong said in a Facebook post on Sunday that workplace safety should not take a backseat amid the rush to catch up on work that was delayed by prolonged pandemic restrictions.

“Each loss of life is one too many. To the families affected, it is everything to them,” he said, urging all unionised companies to hold a safety time-out.

WSH Council chairman John Ng said it is alarming and unfortunate that a number of this year's fatal cases involved basic safety lapses.

Mr Silas Sng, WSH commissioner and divisional director of MOM's Occupational Safety and Health Division, said: "Performing work activities that are routine and repetitive does not guarantee that accidents will not happen.

"We need all employers and employees to take WSH seriously and personally, and to implement the WSH measures before an accident occurs in your workplace."

Meanwhile, Scal WSH sub-committee chairman Yong Jian Rong said the association has called for immediate action from its members in response to the latest safety time-out. Separately, the association has been encouraging its members to take four planned time-outs per year, he said.

Mr Yong noted that WSH in the construction industry has improved over the years, but added that accidents show that there is always room for improvement.

SMF acting president Ryan Chioh said that the federation has sent a customised message to its members, which includes guides on what to do during a time-out.

To encourage participation, the federation will profile members who have conducted the time-out, and share this with others.

At the end of May, the WSH Council will also organise a safety time-out forum that will be broadcast on its Facebook page.

Learning points from recent cases will be discussed, along with presentations by experts from various industries who will focus on topics such as the use of forklifts, use of ladders, working around fragile surfaces, and how to board vessels properly.

The statement said that despite the worrying spate of incidents, Singapore’s workplace fatality rate over the years has decreased, from 2.3 per 100,00 workers in 2011 to 1.1 in 2021.

“This is close to world-class standards, with only four OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries achieving a fatality rate of less than 1 per 100,000 workers,” it added.

Companies may access safety time-out tips and other resources at this website.

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