New workers may be factor in spate of accidents: Experts

Their lack of experience and tight deadlines may have led to rise in workplace incidents

An outflow of experienced workers, coupled with tight delivery timelines amid the pandemic, could be contributing factors to a recent rise in workplace accidents and deaths, said industry experts.

Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council general manager Christopher Koh said feedback from companies indicated that the reopening of borders has resulted in firms facing greater challenges in supervising their workers.

"Right now, firms have access to new workers because the borders are open, but they tend to be less experienced and require more supervision," he said.

He added that "more experienced workers are eager to go home since they haven't been back in a long time and so it creates a manpower constraint, which firms may not be able to adequately supervise".

Nevertheless, he said, management has to be responsible for ensuring that safety standards are upheld, but added that he was optimistic the situation would stabilise eventually.

Mr Koh was speaking to The Straits Times yesterday on the sidelines of a Singapore Contractors Association (Scal) annual event aimed at raising safety standards in the construction sector. Scal represents over 3,000 construction firms and allied businesses.

Singapore is facing its worst spate of workplace deaths since 2016 - 27 so far this year - with the construction sector accounting for 10 of them. More than 200 major injuries were reported in the first four months of the year.

People from the sector and safety professionals discussed ways to reduce workplace safety incidents at the event.

Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction assistant operations manager Mathiarasan Subramaniam said employers have a role to play in helping workers who face mental stress as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the mental stress could distract them from their work, resulting in lapses, citing how some workers were unable to resolve marital problems or land disputes back home due to their inability to leave Singapore.

He said his firm conducts group sessions for workers to voice their problems, which he said helps to show "we are here for them".

He added: "The main issue here is sometimes companies treat them as employees. I feel that we should treat them like a family because they are leaving their entire family back home and coming here to earn a living.

"If we do not give them assurances with a personal touch, they will feel like they are strangers and that will affect their mental state and how they work with us."

At the event, Kwan Yong Construction was recognised for its efforts to promote safety with its development of integrated modular link bridges at its worksite in Serangoon Road.

Typically, link bridges would be assembled at a height, with workers perched on gondolas having to plaster and paint them.

To minimise the risk to workers, the firm combined the separate parts into two modules, which can be pre-assembled on the ground and lifted once ready.

The effort won the company the gold award at Scal's WSH Innovation Awards.

Mr Seah Kok Hua, senior manager at Samwoh Corporation, said during his sharing session that his firm conducts regular competency assessments for appointment holders and incorporates a buddy system for new workers to learn from more experienced ones.

This year's event, themed Workplace Safety And Health Depends On Us, also touched on dengue prevention tips at construction sites and the need to keep workers active and well-hydrated.


Some fatal workplace accidents this year

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 fell 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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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2022, with the headline New workers may be factor in spate of accidents: Experts. Subscribe