Parliament: Safety systems to be enhanced following two SAF training-related deaths

A file photo taken in October 2015 shows recruits undergoing weapon handling practice with the SAR-21 rifle in a training shed at the Singapore Armed Forces Basic Military Training Centre in Pulau Tekong.
A file photo taken in October 2015 shows recruits undergoing weapon handling practice with the SAR-21 rifle in a training shed at the Singapore Armed Forces Basic Military Training Centre in Pulau Tekong.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Safety systems must be designed and enforced in a way that eliminates training deaths within the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

To do that, a member of the External Review Panel on SAF Safety will be included in the independent Committees of Inquiry (COI) that investigate such incidents.

The panel, consisting of prominent safety experts and professionals outside the SAF, helps the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) scrutinise the SAF's safety management system.

They report periodically to the Defence Minister on the rigour of the system and present recommendations to improve.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday (May 17), Dr Ng emphasised that Mindef will continue to strive towards zero fatalities during training as he addressed two tragic incidents in the past year involving SAF full-time national serviceman.

"We must constantly improve the rigour of our safety systems," he said. "If we don't, it will mean another precious soldier lost to a family."

On April 30 this year, Corporal First Class Dave Lee Han Xuan, 19, died in hospital after he displayed heat injuries during training.

Last September, Third Sergeant Gavin Chan, 21, died in Australia when the vehicle he was guiding landed on its side.

In his ministerial statement, Dr Ng said that an independent and impartial investigative process will come up with appropriate corrective measures.

 
 
 

With its inclusion in a COI, the External Review Panel will publish a public report based on the committee's findings after it reviews them.

The COI, presently a four member team, is now chaired by a senior civil servant from outside Mindef and includes a senior doctor from the public sector.

Separately, Mindef will also commission an external medical panel to review its current policies and measures on how heat injuries are being managed.

The medical panel will make recommendations on how the existing system can be improved, given how Singapore has gotten hotter in the past two decades, said Dr Ng.

"We must press on to achieve zero fatalities from heat injuries," he added.

Besides plugging systemic gaps, the SAF is studying how individual wearable devices can be used to monitor a soldier's condition in real time.

On average, Mindef has recorded one national service training-related death each year for the past two decades.

"We will instil in every commander and in every soldier a strong sense of responsibility in ensuring training safety at all levels," said Dr Ng.

"We need every level to play their part, down to the individual commander and soldier to protect their own well-being and that of their men."