S'pore needs to get back to achieving high workplace safety standards: Tan See Leng

A total of 31 workers, both foreign and local, have died in the first seven months of this year. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - From a tender system that considers a contractor's safety record to monthly safety inspections often involving senior management, workplace safety starts at the top for property developer Keppel Land in its mission to have zero work-related fatalities.

Since 2019, the firm, which has projects across Asia, has been giving its contractors and sub-contractors bonuses if they meet safety standards, while progress payments are withheld from those who fall short.

The senior management of its contractors are also expected to attend safety training, and a pledge is signed by all parties involved in every building project, outlining the required safety expectations and commitments before work begins.

On Wednesday (July 27), Keppel Land was among 235 companies and individuals honoured at this year's Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Awards, where Manpower Minister Tan See Leng again stressed the need for employers and workers to do their part to arrest a recent spate of fatal workplace accidents.

"My exhortation to all of you is that we need to get back on track in achieving high WSH standards so that our workers can go back home safely and healthily," Dr Tan told the 1,500 attendees at the awards ceremony at Resorts World Sentosa.

A total of 31 workers, both foreign and local, have died in the first seven months of this year, the most over the same period since 2016. It has also overtaken the 30 workplace deaths recorded in the whole of 2020 and is nearing the 37 recorded last year.

"The first seven months of this year have been particularly hard on all of us... And it is most regrettable because preliminary investigations uncovered that many of these fatalities could have been easily prevented," Dr Tan said.

Keppel Land was the sole winner this year of the WSH Developer Award, which recognises developers that play an active role in ensuring good safety practices.

Its chief executive Louis Lim said: "As developers, we are at the beginning of the value chain. It's incumbent upon us to really influence the rest of the industry."

Beyond physical safety and health, this year's WSH Awards have for the first time recognised firms that take care of their employees' mental well-being.

Eight companies were given the inaugural Culture of Acceptance, Respect and Empathy award, including the Singapore Management University, real estate firm Lendlease and the Animal and Avian Veterinary Clinic (AAVC) in Yishun.

AAVC founder Kenneth Tong said practices such as creating support groups for his 12 employees and providing medical benefits for mental health treatments have been in place since the clinic opened in 2008.

"I've been an employee myself, working in the same line, and I pretty much worked nearly 24 hours a day. Because of that, I know I do not want my staff to go through what I did," the 42-year-old added.

Keppel Land's chief executive Louis Lim (left) and AAVC founder Kenneth Tong at the Workplace Safety and Health Awards at Resorts World Sentosa on July 27, 2022. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Recounting a recent example of the clinic counselling an employee who lost a large part of her savings to a scam, Dr Tong said: "It takes a long time to train staff to be competent and you don't want to lose them because of burnout or other stresses."

WSH Council chairman John Ng lamented the recent spate of accidents but said he was encouraged by the response to the WSH Awards even after its selection criteria was made more stringent.

There were twice as many new applications compared with last year, especially from traditionally low-risk sectors such as finance, insurance and hospitality.

AAVC's Dr Tong said he applied for the award as he wanted to bring the issue of mental health to the fore. "It is not something we should be ashamed about."

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong said there have been "rampant reports" of mental health issues at the workplace since the onset of Covid-19.

"Mental wellness should be of equal priority as physical well-being," he wrote. "With a concerted effort to improve the cognitive health of workers in the workplace, we can aim to reduce the number of incidents and injuries."

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