Safety time-out after recent spate of fatal work accidents

'Alarming trend' as many caused by basic lapses that could have been avoided: Zaqy

Workers at a construction site at Thomson Road on June 15. NTUC will work with affiliated unions to push for safety time-outs at all high-risk worksites, where site practices and risk assessments can be reviewed, said its assistant secretary-general
Workers at a construction site at Thomson Road on June 15. NTUC will work with affiliated unions to push for safety time-outs at all high-risk worksites, where site practices and risk assessments can be reviewed, said its assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

The Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council and six trade associations last week called for a safety time-out, after a recent spate of fatal workplace accidents.

Associations in the construction, marine, process engineering, manufacturing, transport and logistics industries have called on over 10,700 of their members to take time to review their safety controls and work methods, among other measures.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, who referred to this yesterday, said that the recent spate of workplace deaths was a "very alarming trend".

The total number of work-related deaths this year is now 23. In the first half of last year, there were 16 workplace fatalities.

Meanwhile, some workplace safety and health courses will be moved online, said Mr Zaqy, who was speaking at the annual bizSAFE Convention.

This year's convention, which was streamed online, looked at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on various aspects from safety and health to mental well-being, and explored how the workforce can deal with the uncertainties ahead.

The loss of nine lives in work accidents since last month was "most disappointing", said Mr Zaqy. "The most worrying and disturbing aspect is that many of these were caused by very basic safety lapses that could have been avoided."

These include workers going into a confined space without first conducting a gas check, entering the water without a life vest, and working at height without securing themselves safely.

In his speech, Mr Zaqy said that mandatory courses, like those on safety orientation, help workers understand the importance of safety.

Some courses will be moved online to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission at training venues, he added. For a start, this will be carried out for worker-level WSH courses, before including supervisor and management-level ones.

However, for some of the equipment-or machine-based courses, there will be a need to retain the hands-on training "so as to maintain realism and ensure operator proficiency", Mr Zaqy said.

From Aug 1, employers will have the option of enrolling their workers in online safety orientation course training and assessment, for existing workers doing re-certification. More details on online options for other WSH courses will be shared later.

Besides training workers, Mr Zaqy said, the management of companies should also do their part by implementing sound risk management systems.

He also touched on supporting workers' mental well-being, which has come under strain during the pandemic. Many experience anxiety and stress from financial uncertainty, social isolation and the blurring of work-life boundaries.

Employers can play a role in helping staff to cope better, by creating a supportive workplace where workers know that "it's okay to not be okay", he said.

An industry-led workgroup is updating the risk management code of practice to offer guidance on how to mitigate risks associated with disease outbreaks, and mental well-being. The updated code is expected to be ready later this year.

Encouraging employers and their workers to tap the resources available, Mr Zaqy said: "When we reflect on the harm from accidents or ill-health, and its associated disruption to work and productivity, we can all agree that time spent in improving risk management is time well spent."

In a statement on the rising number of fatal workplace accidents, National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong yesterday said ground visits have found that some worksites may be short of manpower, "with workers having to cover unfamiliar tasks, which they may not be adequately trained to do".

NTUC will be working with affiliated unions to push for safety time-outs at all high-risk worksites, where site practices and risk assessments can be reviewed, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2021, with the headline 'Safety time-out after recent spate of fatal work accidents'. Subscribe