More than 30 firms made to hire external auditors to review safety processes

MOM recognises that tangible improvements to workplace safety go beyond just issuing penalties, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - More than 30 companies have been made to hire external auditors to review their workplace safety and health (WSH) processes after tougher sanctions were put in place by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) earlier in 2022 to curb a rise in workplace deaths.

Since June, companies must engage external auditors to review their management systems if they have been issued stop-work orders or have had workers who suffered major injuries while on the job.

Under a six-month heightened safety period between Sept 1, 2022 and Feb 28, 2023, instituted by MOM, companies will also be barred from hiring new foreign workers for up to three months if severe lapses are found following a serious or fatal workplace accident.

Two companies – Le Fong Building Services and Green Recycling – have been punished under this heightened safety rule, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad told Parliament on Tuesday.

Waterproofing contractor Le Fong was penalised after MOM found unsafe work practices that led to a worker becoming seriously injured in September, after he fell through a roof about three storeys high.

No details were provided on Green Recycling but a fire had broken out at the plastic product manufacturer’s premises in Woodlands Industrial Park in September.

The chief executives of the two companies also had to personally account for the lapses and take responsibility for correcting them – a change in posture by the authorities to hold company leaders more liable, Mr Zaqy said.

But even with these measures and repeated calls for businesses to step up, a recent MOM enforcement operation targeting slips, trips and falls at workplaces netted a substantial number of repeat offenders.

In response to questions from labour MP Melvin Yong (Radin Mas), Mr Zaqy said slightly more than half of the 558 companies that were penalised during the operation conducted between August and October had previously been punished for safety breaches.

He did not provide specific figures but said the repeat offenders received stiffer penalties, such as higher composition fines, and those with poor WSH performance were inspected more regularly.

Still, Mr Zaqy noted that the six-month heightened safety period has led to “promising results”, with the average number of workplace deaths each month in 2022 having dipped from about 4½ to two since Sept 1.

He added: “We’ve slowed down the momentum. I hope it continues. I think there is greater awareness among firms. But again, we should move towards zero because every fatality is just one too many.”

Asked if MOM intends to extend the heightened safety period past February 2023, he said it is still too early to say.

Mr Zaqy said MOM recognises that tangible improvements to workplace safety go beyond just issuing penalties.

He told Parliament that the WSH Council has strengthened its support for companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, under the StartSafe programme, which gives companies free access to consultants who can provide professional advice and hands-on guidance.

More than 140 companies have signed up for the programme since the start of the heightened safety period – about 50 per cent more than the typical number of monthly sign-ups previously.

Mr Zaqy said the authorities are also developing online resources for a new approved code of practice for the WSH duties of company directors, which took effect on Oct 31.

This code of practice – which can be used by the courts when deciding on judgments and penalties should errant company directors ignore the guidance in it – will also be incorporated into the nationally recognised bizSafe training programme by the first quarter of 2023.

Last week, two more workers died while on the job, taking the workplace fatality toll in 2022 to 42, the highest in four years. There were 37 workplace fatalities in 2021, 30 in 2020, and 39 in 2019.

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