Workplace fatalities edge to new low, but more non-fatal injuries on the job last year

The construction sector remained the top contributor of deaths, with 14 fatal accidents, two more than the year before. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More workers sustained non-fatal workplace injuries last year, though the number of those who died on the job edged to a new record low.

Forty-one workers died from workplace injuries, one fewer than the 42 the year before. The construction sector remained the top contributor of deaths, with 14 fatal accidents, two more than the year before.

Meanwhile, 313 more cases of major and minor injuries were registered, with an area of concern in the pronounced increase in major injuries from slips, trips and falls, the Ministry of Manpower and the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council said on Thursday (Feb 21).

This increase was seen across a variety of industries, including those that were traditionally of lower risk.

In a joint statement, the MOM and the council said the trend of declining workplace fatalities had continued since the Workplace Safety and Health Act was enacted in 2006.

The workplace fatal injury rate, which is the number deaths per 100,000 employees, was 1.2 last year, down from 3.1 in 2006.

"The improvements have been achieved through making companies and individuals liable for safety outcomes, rather than observing prescriptive standards, imposing stiffer penalties and extensively engaging and educating industries," said MOM and the WSH council.

The wholesale trade sector, along with the real estate services were flagged for an increased number of fatalities, with five and four cases respectively.

MOM and the WSH council said these two sectors previously had few fatal injuries, and called for more vigilance.

Falls from height, slips, trips and falls, and vehicle-related incidents remained the top causes of fatal injuries, although the number of incidents involving vehicles fell by half to seven, from 14 in 2017. The authorities said this was due to continued inspection and engagement efforts.

The number of dangerous occurrences, such as explosions or cranes collapsing, decreased by 34 per cent from 2017, while occupational diseases decreased by 30 per cent.

Nonetheless, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said the rise in workplace injuries was a cause for concern.

"Some businesses may not realise the business benefits that good workplace safety and health can bring, and perceive improving WSH as costing time and money," he added.

The Manpower Ministry conducted more than 4,800 inspections last year during which it uncovered more than 9,000 workplace safety and heath contraventions and issued 69 Stop-Work Orders.

Mr Zaqy said the WSH2028 Tripartite Strategies Committee, which was set up last year, has been studying how to align firms' commercial interests closer with good WSH outcomes.

Strategies are being finalised, and will be announced in April.

Mr John Ng, chairman of both the WSH Council and the WSH2028 panel, said the two bodies will seek to grow a culture of prevention and trust that starts with the top leaders in companies.

In a blog post on Thursday, Member of Parliament Melvin Yong, who is assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, called for more emphasis on workplace health, differentiated insurance premiums, a mandatory WSH representative in every company, and a national WSH training academy.

Referring to the MOM's latest statistics, Mr Yong said: "We have done good work in lowering workplace fatalities, particularly in the manufacturing and transport and storage sectors as well as bringing down the number of vehicle-related fatal accidents.

"But one worker injured is still one case too many."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.