Tougher penalties, review of safety rules as worksite deaths climb

Government may also give firms with better safety records more business opportunities

More workplace safety and health (WSH) personnel will need to be deployed to work sites as the authorities undertake a review of current WSH requirements following a recent spate of workplace accidents and deaths.

At the same time, the Government will look into imposing heavier penalties on contractors with poor work practices, and give those with better safety records more business opportunities, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng yesterday.

Noting that the WSH regulatory regime has been in place for more than a decade, he said it is timely to review the requirements.

The review comes as the 27th workplace fatality this year was reported on Wednesday, when a 32-year-old construction worker from India was crushed by a crane.

He was working at a site occupied by China Construction (South Pacific) Development Co, a firm already under close monitoring by MOM after a workplace death in February.

There were 30 workplace deaths in 2020 and 37 last year.

The review will look at how many WSH auditors, officers and coordinators are needed to improve the level of WSH oversight on the ground, Dr Tan told representatives of construction firms and safety personnel at the launch of the Singapore Contractors Association's (Scal) annual safety and health campaign to engage its members on raising safety standards.

Dr Tan called on the industry to "do everything we can to prevent the loss of lives and make sure that our workers can return home safely to their loved ones".

He noted that of the 27 workplace deaths this year, 10 were from the construction sector, which Dr Tan said is "of great concern".

Last week, the ministry doubled the composition fines for offences observed during safety inspections to a maximum of $5,000.

Companies which have been issued stop-work orders or have had workers suffering major injuries will have to engage external auditors to review their systems.

Dr Tan added that the ministry is looking at harmonising disqualification criteria which would disqualify unsafe firms from competing for all government contracts and cut their access to foreign labour.

Companies should also tap technology to closely monitor the condition and practices at their workplaces, such as using closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, he said. This can help overcome manpower constraints in site supervision, especially if the cameras are equipped with video analytics that can raise alerts on unsafe situations.

"We are therefore considering requiring CCTVs or other means of surveillance to be installed on-site in the future," he said.

"We will work with Scal on the implementation details."

Mr Hooi Yu Koh, chief executive of construction firm Kori Holdings, said cutting off firms with poor workplace safety records from projects and manpower will act as a deterrent. "When you enter a site that is safe, the awareness of the worker tends to be high. When they are being monitored constantly, workers generally think they shouldn't cut corners or take shortcuts," he added.

Mr V. Manimaran, operations manager of Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction, said firms which are barred from taking government contracts can still tender for private ones. "The rules need to be applied across the board because if not, there's still wiggle room for companies with poor records to work around.

"Yes, the fines may have increased and companies might not be able to access the migrant labour pool, but if they're rich, then the fine is nothing to them.

"And they would already have a sizeable number of workers too. There is still that one life lost and no amount of fines or demerit points will bring that life back."

 

 

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2022, with the headline Tougher penalties, review of safety rules as worksite deaths climb. Subscribe