Labour MP calls for further measures to curb rise in workplace deaths

More should be done to prevent safety lapses. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A compulsory safety time-out for companies in high-risk industries and those that use heavy vehicles should be expanded to more sectors, said labour MP Melvin Yong.

He said the labour movement welcomes the mandatory safety time-out and other measures announced on Thursday to curb the rise in workplace deaths and injuries, but added that more should be done to prevent safety lapses.

The review of safety systems and processes conducted during the safety time-out should also involve all parties, from company management and workers, to unions, sub-contractors and suppliers, he said in a Facebook post.

Regardless of their safety records, these firms should engage an external auditor to conduct these safety audits as well, the National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general added.

He also called on companies to set up workplace safety committees with worker or union representatives, so as to track workplace safety and health (WSH) performance and implement relevant measures.

This includes setting up reporting channels and assuring workers that there will not be any reprisals for whistle-blowing.

Asked at a press briefing if his ministry was confident the new measures will be effective, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said the new steps are not just about enforcement, but also getting companies and workers to think about how to improve the safety culture here.

"It is not just about the stick but the carrots as well," Mr Zaqy said.

He added that the six-month heightened safety period imposed by MOM until February next year is a time for companies to reflect on how they treat their workers and keep them safe.

Mr Zaqy said a change in work tempo post-Covid-19 is one possible reason for the recent spate of worker deaths, noting that the fatalities occurred in a range of different sectors and circumstances.

But the common factor has been that each of the them involved simple breaches of safety protocol.

"To some extent, maybe we lost some muscle memory," he added.

"We are very sympathetic to businesses that are trying to adjust, trying to get new business. Some are having new workers coming in and rotating workers in and out. So we understand the ground shifts...

"This is ongoing, therefore everyone needs to adjust their timelines, pace and tempo," Mr Zaqy said.

On whether the recent spate of workplace deaths has set Singapore back in its goal to bring the workplace fatality rate to below one per 100,000 workers, he said the country has come a long way since the days of the Nicoll Highway collapse in 2004 when the fatality rate was 4.9 per 100,000 workers.

"But I think as a mature economy and the level of development we are in, it is only right that we set ourselves strong benchmarks. Our workers deserve it," he added.

New measures to curb workplace accidents

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has implemented a slate of new measures to address the spate of workplace fatalities, which stands at 36 as at Thursday.

Heightened safety period

From Sept 1 to Feb 28 next year, companies will not be allowed to hire new foreign workers for up to three months if severe lapses are found after a serious or fatal workplace accident.

The chief executives or board members of these firms will also need to be personally accountable for rectifying these lapses.

Mandatory safety timeout

From Sept 1 to Sept 15, companies in high-risk sectors and those in industries that use heavy, or industrial, vehicles must stop work temporarily and allocate time to review their safety procedures.

These firms must complete a list of safety timeout activities issued to them, and will have to show documentary proof of this.

More support for SMEs

MOM said more than half of the 36 workplace deaths this year involved small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

To this end, it will give more support to SMEs so they can access external safety consultants paid for by MOM under the Workplace Safety and Health Council's StartSAFE scheme.

Demerit points system

From Oct 1, errant construction firms will receive demerit points from the first fine onwards. The number of demerit points for major injuries and dangerous occurrences will also be raised from 18 to 25, giving it equal weight as fatal accidents.

Disqualification criteria

The criteria used to disqualify unsafe main contractors and first-level sub-contractors from public construction tenders will be standardised from Oct 1.

More stringent criteria can be set by individual public agencies.

Multi-sector task force

A multi-sectoral workplace safety task force will be set up to conduct in-depth examinations into the work practices and structures within specific industries. It will be able to get advice from external experts.

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