Recent spate of workplace deaths is 'far too many, and not acceptable': PM Lee

Companies are urged to use the safety timeout to review safety management systems and learn from past accidents. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The recent spate of workplace fatalities is far too many, and not acceptable, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (May 9).

Companies have been urged to impose a two-week safety time-out from Monday, after 10 workplace fatalities were reported last month.

This brings the total number of workplace deaths so far this year to 20 - the highest number of fatalities for the same period since 2016.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSHC), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and industry partners had called for the time-out.

"We have been working hard for years to prevent workplace accidents, especially deaths. We have made good progress," PM Lee said in a Facebook post on Monday.

"But with our economy reopening and activities ramping up, safety standards and practices seem to have slipped. Accident rates have gone up, and we have lost ground."

Companies can review workplace safety, reinforce their safety processes and address safety issues raised by workers, PM Lee said. 

Each time-out involves a company taking a pause from work so that senior management can engage workers and unions on workplace safety and health (WSH) processes, and act on any issues that may arise.

Companies should also review risk assessments, and ensure that workers implement risk controls as well as have WSH training relevant to their roles.

Companies have been asked to familiarise workers with learning points from recent fatal accidents, as well as hazardous situations, to avoid a repeat of these accidents.

The safety time-out will have two focus areas: the safe use of equipment - such as forklifts - and working safely at heights, which includes working on fragile surfaces and the use of ladders. 

PM Lee said: "We must put this right. I call on everyone involved - employers, supervisors, and workers - to take safety at the workplace seriously.

"Lives are at stake. We have a responsibility to keep all our workers safe, whether they are local or foreign."

The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) on Monday expressed its support for the call for a safety time-out, urging company leaders to take it to review their WSH system and work processes, and address any weaknesses and take the necessary actions before recommencing work.

It noted in its statement that workplace fatalities rose from 30 in 2020 to 37 last year. 

“With the reopening of the Singapore economy, employers should put (the) health and safety of workers as a priority as more workers return to the workplace and economic activities pick up,” the federation added. 

It said company leaders have the responsibility to ensure that workers can come to work and return home safely every day. 

“Company leaders should empower all workers to take ownership of their safety so that they would speak up about safety issues and would not take unnecessary risks to meet deadlines.”

SNEF said it will continue to work with MOM, WSHC, NTUC and employers towards the goal of reducing workplace fatalities to a rate below one per 100,000 workers by the year 2028.

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