Public database on companies' safety records expanded to let developers choose better contractors: Zaqy

The move is part of a package of measures aimed at addressing the recent spate of workplace deaths and injuries. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A public database of company safety records has been expanded to include those outside of the construction sector, to help real estate developers here better choose contractors for their projects.

The CheckSafe database now includes information on companies from sectors such as transportation, food services and education.

Other improvements made on Aug 5 to the repository include allowing developers to compare up to 10 companies at once, up from five previously.

This is part of a package of measures aimed at addressing the recent spate of workplace deaths and injuries, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Thursday (Aug 25).

Allowing developers to take such records into account will create a virtuous circle where contractors equate safety with business opportunities, said Mr Zaqy at a safety leadership forum organised by the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (Redas) and the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council.

"In the end, developers benefit from stronger safety performance, lower risk of work stoppages due to accidents, and certainly a better reputation," he told forum participants at The Fullerton Hotel.

Introduced in January last year, CheckSafe allows industry players and the public to look up a company's safety statistics, such as workplace fatalities, details of stop-work orders issued over a three-year period, and accolades a firm has received, such as MOM's WSH Award or bizSAFE Award.

Mr Zaqy said there is a "pressing need" for safety leadership in the construction industry, which accounted for more than a third of the 34 work-related deaths this year.

The sector also accounted for 84 major injuries in the first half of 2022, the worst the industry has performed since 2014 if this figure was annualised. Examples of major injuries include amputation, blindness, paralysis and burns that lead to more than 20 days of medical leave.

"This is disheartening and unacceptable," Mr Zaqy said.

He said the collapse of a concrete pier at Keppel Shipyard in Tuas on Monday, which killed a 38-year-old Bangladeshi worker and injured four others, is a strong reminder for the construction sector to continue checking on the safety of structures here.

"While it was in the marine sector, given that it was infrastructure that failed, I think it is something we should be concerned about," he said.

"As developers, you play a critical role in raising safety standards. You also have tremendous influence as service buyers," he added.

On the enforcement front, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has conducted almost twice the number of inspections this quarter as it did over the same period last year.

Composition fines for each infringement found during these inspections have also been doubled from $1,000 to $2,000 on average.

In addition to enforcement, MOM is looking to improve worker empowerment, company oversight and ownership.

Mr Zaqy said workers need to feel empowered to raise safety concerns to their supervisors, and to know they can report unsafe workplace practices to MOM should their supervisors ignore them.

Hence, signboards at construction sites here will now display MOM's safety hotline, and a Quick Response (QR) code that links to MOM's feedback channels.

To better help developers exercise oversight, a set of guidelines on incorporating safety in the design of construction projects here has been revised to include more detailed checklists on the risks to be avoided.

Standardised criteria used to disqualify unsafe firms from bidding for public construction tenders will also be announced soon.

He also requested that the association update MOM on which of its members adopt the new disqualification framework one year after its implementation.

Meanwhile, to help top management set the right safety culture in their companies, a code of practice on the WSH duties of chief executives and board directors will be finalised by the end of the year. It is currently undergoing public consultation.

WSH commissioner Silas Sng said at the forum that the main intention of the code of practice is not to punish, but to provide prescriptive guidance.

“This is what (bosses) are expected to do going forward. And if everybody were to play their part...it will be a game changer,” he added.

On the flip side, Mr Zaqy lauded efforts by developers like Keppel Land and City Developments Limited, which have introduced incentive schemes that award bonuses to contractors who do well in safety and health.

He said he was glad that Redas will be encouraging its members to implement similar safety bonus schemes.

"This will be a strong carrot in aligning contractors' business interests with a strong workplace safety and health culture," he added.

CDL’s head of projects, Ms Tay Seok Cheng, said her firm has been giving out such incentives for the past 21 years.

Audits are conducted every quarter and contractors are assessed based on a scale from one to five stars. Those that maintain a five-star rating for a whole year get a $30,000 bonus.

“It is about whether you believe safety is really important. Human lives should not be neglected,” Ms Tay said.

United Tec Construction managing director Allan Tan said such incentive schemes are uncommon in the sector but should be adopted more widely.

“Punitive measures can be effective to a certain extent but why not look at it the other way round... We need to cultivate a positive mindset so that people along the value chain can be motivated and take action,” he said.

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