MOM raising safety officer requirements for worksites, reviewing penalty system: Tan See Leng

Of the 27 workplace deaths this year, 10 were from the construction sector. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - More workplace safety and health (WSH) personnel will need to be deployed on the ground, as the authorities undertake a review of current WSH requirements following a recent spate of workplace accidents and deaths.

At the same time, the Government will look into imposing heavier penalties on contractors with poor work practices, and give those with better safety records more business opportunities, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng on Thursday (June 23).

Noting that the current WSH regulatory regime has been in place for more than a decade, Dr Tan said it is timely to review the requirements.

"Having more WSH personnel on the ground will help contractors to better manage WSH on-site," he said.

He noted that many firms already go beyond today's legal requirements and have full teams of WSH personnel "because (they) believe that ensuring a safe and healthy worksite is the right thing to do".

"Through the review, we hope that more contractors can also benefit from the assistance of trained and competent WSH personnel," he added.

The review comes as the 27th workplace fatality this year was reported on Wednesday, when a 32-year-old construction worker from India was crushed by a crane.

He was working at a site occupied by China Construction (South Pacific) Development Co, a firm already under close monitoring by MOM after a workplace death in February.

There were 30 workplace deaths for the whole of 2020 and 37 in 2021.

The review will look at how many WSH auditors, officers and coordinators are needed to improve the level of WSH oversight on the ground, Dr Tan told representatives of construction firms and safety personnel at the launch of the Singapore Contractors Association’s (Scal) annual safety and health campaign to engage its members on raising safety standards.

Dr Tan called on the industry to "do everything we can to prevent the loss of lives and make sure that our workers can return home safely to their loved ones".

He noted that of the 27 workplace deaths this year, 10 were from the construction sector, which Dr Tan said is "of great concern".

Last week, MOM doubled the composition fines for offences observed during safety inspections to a maximum of $5,000.

Companies which have been issued stop-work orders or have had workers suffering major injuries will also have to engage external auditors to review their systems.

The ministry also said earlier that it conducted 25 per cent more inspections in the second quarter of this year compared with the first quarter.

Dr Tan added that the ministry is looking at harmonising disqualification criteria which would disqualify unsafe firms from competing for all government contracts and cut their access to foreign labour.

Companies should also tap technology to closely monitor the condition and practices at their workplaces, such as using closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, he said. This can help overcome manpower constraints in site supervision, especially if the cameras are equipped with video analytics that can raise alerts on unsafe situations.

"We are therefore considering requiring CCTVs or other means of surveillance to be installed on-site in the future," he said. "We will work with Scal on the implementation details."

Mr Hooi Yu Koh, chief executive of construction firm Kori Holdings, said  cutting off firms with poor workplace safety records from projects and manpower will act as a deterrent.

“When you enter a site that is safe, the awareness of the worker tends to be high. When they are being monitored constantly, workers generally think they shouldn’t cut corners or take shortcuts,” added Mr Hooi.

Mr V. Manimaran, operations manager of Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction, said firms which are barred from taking government contracts can still apply for private ones. “The rules need to be applied across the board because if not, there’s still wiggle room for companies with poor records to work around.

“Yes, the fines may have increased and companies might not be able to access the migrant labour pool, but if they’re rich, then the fine is nothing to them. 

“And they would already have a sizeable number of workers too. There is still that one life lost and no amount of fines or demerit points will bring that life back.”

Five workplace accidents in Singapore this year

Two Bangladeshi workers died when a structure at a Tuas shipyard collapsed on March 28, 2022. PHOTO: ST READER

March 28: Two Bangladeshi workers died after they were thrown off a vessel docked at a Tuas shipyard owned by Keppel Corporation. The two, aged 30 and 42, were working on a scaffold built around a structure when it collapsed suddenly. Another worker managed to hold on to the structure and survived.

April 8: A 48-year-old Singaporean engineer died after falling seven storeys while doing maintenance work at the CapitaSpring building in the central business district. She was working on the maintenance level above the 16th floor of the building without fall arrest equipment, when she stepped on a false ceiling that gave way and caused her to fall about 30m.

April 27: A 39-year-old worker died after he was run over by a prime mover in Yishun. The Indian national had parked his vehicle on a ramp along a driveway when it started to roll forward. He ran towards the front of the vehicle and ended up getting run over by it.

April 30: A 49-year-old worker died from his injuries when the container office he was working in at a Tuas South Avenue 3 site was blown off its steel support. It had been erected 3.6m above ground and the wind and heavy downpour caused the container to fall, resulting in the Indian national suffering head injuries.

June 22: A 32-year-old worker died after being crushed between the undercarriage of a mobile crane and its counterweights at 1 Mandai Quarry Road. The Indian national was retrieving shackles from a toolbox located underneath the chassis of the crane when the crane turned clockwise and crushed him.

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