Spike in workplace injuries sparks renewed call for more vigilance

Falls from height continued to be the leading cause of workplace death in 2020.
Falls from height continued to be the leading cause of workplace death in 2020.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - A sharp increase in the number of workplace injuries late last year has prompted the authorities to renew calls for greater vigilance.

While the number of work-related deaths and injuries overall fell in 2020 due to the suspension of workplace activities in the middle of the year, the injury rate in the final three months of the year returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Releasing annual statistics on workplace safety and health on Friday (March 19), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it had conducted more than 1,000 inspections between December and this month and found safety breaches at more than half the workplaces checked.

"The escalating injury rate in late 2020 and the spate of accidents in February 2021 is cause for concern," MOM said, urging firms not to neglect workplace safety as they balance project deadlines and manpower constraints.

Companies should refresh workers' training and review risk assessments, especially if there have been changes to work processes or the workplace, MOM added.

There were 30 workplace deaths in 2020 and a fatality rate of 0.9 per 100,000 workers - the lowest since records began in 2004.

This is down from 39 deaths and a fatality rate of 1.1 per 100,000 workers in 2019.

Workplace injuries fell by almost 20 per cent, from 13,779 to 11,350, but MOM noted the number of cases reported between October and December last year - 3,413 - was comparable with the 3,445 injuries in the same period in 2019.

In contrast, there were 1,926 and 2,880 workplace injuries reported in the second and third quarters of 2020 respectively.

Falls from height continued to be the leading cause of death, with eight recorded last year, while construction was again the sector with the most deaths, at nine cases.

Another perennial issue was slips, trips and falls, which remained the leading cause of both major and minor injuries, and was prevalent in the cleaning, transport, security, and food and beverage sectors.

MOM also called for more attention to be paid to the manufacturing sector, which had more deaths last year compared with 2019 despite the suspension of workplace activities, and had the most non-fatal injuries last year.

MOM said it found contraventions in 55 per cent of workplaces it inspected following a spate of six workplace deaths late last year, including five within two weeks.

It issued 13 stop-work orders, 264 composition fines amounting to $303,000 and 1,270 notices of non-compliance, mainly for fall from height risks and poor maintenance of heavy machinery, such as excavators, boom lifts and forklifts.

In the wake of last month's fatal industrial blast in Tuas that killed three and injured seven, MOM is also targeting 500 companies working with combustible dust.

The explosion, one of nine fatal workplace incidents in February, was caused by an accumulation of potato starch in a confined space.

Around half of the 500 firms have been inspected, and three were found to have inadequate control measures despite having significant risk of explosion, and were ordered to stop work.

In addition, 17 composition fines were issued to firms for infringements such as inadequate risk assessments, inadequate measures to remove or prevent the accumulation of dust, and insufficient measures to control ignition sources in the workplace.

Said Mr Silas Sng, workplace safety and health commissioner and MOM's divisional director of occupational safety and health: "The commitment of a company's leadership is key to preventing accidents. They should not wait for inspectors to pick up lapses, but should instead proactively take steps to assess the risk of their operations and take adequate control measures to prevent accidents."