Spate of fatal workplace accidents in S'pore 'very alarming', many could have been avoided: Zaqy

The total number of work-related deaths in 2021 is now 23.
The total number of work-related deaths in 2021 is now 23.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council and six trade associations last week called for a safety time-out, in light of 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 on Tuesday (June 29), added 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 2020, there were 16 workplace fatalities.

Meanwhile, some workplace safety and health courses will be moved online - amid the Covid-19 pandemic - for workers to adopt safe work procedures, 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 pandemic on various aspects from safety and health to mental well-being, and explored how the workforce can deal with the uncertainties that lie ahead.

The loss of nine lives in accidents across various industries, such as construction, manufacturing, and transport and storage, 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 lapses include workers going into a confined space without first doing a gas check, entering the water without a life vest, and working at height without securing themselves safely.

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

Some courses will be moved online, as a step to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission at training venues, he added. For a start, this will be done for worker-level WSH courses, before progressing to 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 explained.

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 also urged the management of companies to do their part by implementing sound risk management systems.

On workplace health, he 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 their 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 of practice 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 (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong said on Tuesday that 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.