New Inspector-General's Office to ensure SAF safety after Aloysius Pang's death

Following actor Aloysius Pang's death due to injuries suffered while on a military exercise, the Singapore Armed Forces has lowered its training tempo across all services to better focus on safety.
Following actor Aloysius Pang's death due to injuries suffered while on a military exercise, the Singapore Armed Forces has lowered its training tempo across all services to better focus on safety.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ALOYSIUS 冯伟衷

Mindef announces raft of safety measures as defence chief calls for 'zero-accident' mindset

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is setting up a new Inspector-General's Office (IGO) that will report directly to the Chief of Defence Force and have full authority to scrutinise and enforce safety processes and practices at all levels.

The new office is among a raft of measures undertaken by the SAF in the wake of actor Aloysius Pang's death on Jan 23, four days after the operationally ready national serviceman was hurt in a military exercise.

Other moves include increasing the number of safety inspection teams and full-time safety officers to perform checks and audits on unit-level safety systems in the army, which will progressively lift an ongoing safety timeout from next Friday.

As part of an unprecedented move by the SAF to lower the training tempo across all services in the next few months, the army will also review whether to scale back its exercises, and will redesign and even remove selected training courses.

The IGO was announced by Chief of Defence Force Melvyn Ong at a meeting with 750 commanders, comprising both active and operationally ready servicemen, at Pasir Laba Camp yesterday.

A Ministry of Defence statement said Lieutenant-General Ong called for all servicemen to adopt a "zero-accident" mindset, where they go about daily tasks with alertness and mindfulness so as to "do things right the first time, every time".

"Safety is a command responsibility. Commanders answer for the training and safety of their men. To do so, commanders have to be fully committed and personally and intimately involved in their unit's training, operations and safety," he said.

Lt-Gen Ong said he, as well as the army, air force and navy chiefs and commanders at all levels, will make more visits to SAF units to ensure training is safe.

The defence chief added that a lower training tempo - referring to the duration, frequency and intensity of training activities - will allow SAF units to review their training programmes comprehensively to reduce the safety risk for servicemen.

 
 
 
 

No details were given on when the new IGO will be set up, its size and composition, or who will head it.

The army, navy and air force have their own safety inspectorates headed by full colonels that report to their respective service chiefs.

The Straits Times understands that the new IGO will perform an additional level of audits and checks, as well as promote safety education, beyond what the inspectorates now do in each service.

Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said the new IGO could reflect an acknowledgement that there are still gaps in safety that need to be closed, even if the safety regime is generally robust.

"There may have, unfortunately, been areas which were overlooked, and the Inspector-General's job is to ensure complete and absolute compliance. Ninety-nine per cent might not be good enough - 100 per cent is what is demanded now," he added.

SAF training safety has come under the spotlight after Corporal First Class (NS) Pang's death - the fifth reported since September 2017, before which the SAF had four years of zero training-and operations-related fatalities. A Committee of Inquiry led by a State Court-nominated judge was convened last Friday to investigate the death.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen wrote on Facebook last night: "We await the findings and recommendations of the independent panel. In the meantime, the SAF must continue to strengthen its safety systems, starting from the very top to reach the last soldier on the ground."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2019, with the headline 'New Inspector-General's Office to ensure SAF safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe