10 men taken to hospital after second lorry accident in four days

The police said they were alerted to Saturday's incident, near The Rail Mall, at around 7.20am. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Ten men were taken to hospital after an accident involving a lorry in Upper Bukit Timah Road on Saturday morning (April 24).

The 35-year-old driver and nine passengers, understood to be foreign workers, were taken conscious to hospital, said the police.

The accident came just four days after another lorry carrying foreign workers collided with a stationary tipper truck on the Pan-Island Expressway early Tuesday morning. Two workers died in that incident and 15 were injured.

The police said they were alerted to Saturday's incident, near The Rail Mall, at around 7.20am.

The injured, who were aged between 26 and 50, were taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, according to the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Photos of the scene showed the lorry on its side and its canopy on the road. Several passengers were seen sitting next to the vehicle.

Police investigations are ongoing.

The two incidents renewed calls by migrant worker advocacy groups and members of the public to improve safety regulations for transporting foreign workers.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesperson for Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) said: "It is common sense that travelling in the back of a cargo lorry exposes passengers to greater risk of more severe injury in motor accidents.

"Given that strict road safety rules apply to all other road users, the fact that migrant workers are transported like cargo is inhumane and shameful," she said, adding that Home has pressed the issue for years with both the Manpower Ministry and the public.

Under the Road Traffic Act, employers can use lorries to ferry workers between their lodgings and workplaces. Current safety regulations require drivers to stick to the road speed limit or 60kmh, whichever is lower, and workers on the carriage deck of lorries to be "properly seated in a manner that would not cause them to fall off the vehicle", according to the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) One Motoring website.

Many say standards could be improved, for example, by making seat belts compulsory.

Ms Dipa Swaminathan, founder of ItsRainingRaincoats, said: "The rest of us have been entitled to the safety of seat belts and there is indisputable evidence that seat belts can save lives... It is therefore unfair that migrant workers do not get such a basic safety feature."

She added that finding a holistic solution that addressed underlying issues for lorry drivers was also important, citing that several were migrant workers themselves who lacked adequate rest.

Mr Zahirul Islam, safety coordinator and the uncle of Mr Toffazal Hossain, who died in Tuesday's accident, added: "Lorry drivers are often sleepy because they have to wake up earlier to pick up workers and end up rushing because their pay will be affected if they don't arrive by 8am."

Others note workers should be taken to work by bus or van instead of in lorries.

As at Sunday, a Change.org petition for workers to be safely transported in buses or vans had gained more than 4,900 signatures.

Safety rules were last tightened in 2010 following two accidents in which foreign workers were flung from lorries. In one, three Chinese nationals in their 40s died after the overcrowded lorry they were in skidded and tipped.

Public debate prompted the Government to bring forward the deadline for new regulations that required lorries to install canopies and higher side railings to prevent workers from falling out.

However, operational costs by industry stakeholders led LTA to review its plans for lorry owners to double the minimum deck space to 8 sq ft for each seated worker.

Then-president of the Singapore Contractors Association Ho Nyok Yong said in 2011 that smaller contractors might have to shoulder the financial burden of buying more vehicles or leasing buses to ferry workers.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the construction sector has been hard hit with delays to building and housing projects. With new restrictions to long-term pass holders and short-term visitors from India announced on April 22, firms in the construction, marine and process sectors are set to face greater strains.

Acknowledging concerns about cost, a Home spokesperson added: "But what cost of a human life?"

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