Amid calls by advocacy groups to stop using lorries to transport workers, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday said the number of people injured or killed while on board lorries has been falling in the last 10 years, since safety measures were rolled out to protect workers.
From 2011 to 2015, there was an average of nine fatalities a year. But the corresponding figure for 2016 to 2020 was 2.6 a year.
LTA also said that the average injury rate from 2011 to 2020 was 8.7 people per 1,000 lorries, comparable to the injury rate for the total motor vehicle population of about 8.6 people per 1,000 vehicles.
It also said - in response to questions from the media - that Singapore is not alone in using goods vehicles to transport people.
It said: "In 2009 and 2010, the Government rolled out a series of measures to enhance the safety of workers ferried on lorries. Since then, the number of people on board lorries who were injured or killed in road traffic accidents has been falling.
"Internationally, while there are different practices, it is not uncommon for goods vehicles to be used to carry passengers. For example, countries such as Canada, Thailand and the United States allow for passengers to be ferried on the rear deck, with varying degrees of safety restrictions."
At least one MP is expected to ask, when Parliament sits next week, whether buses or minibuses should be used instead to transport workers.
Two accidents that occurred last month are currently under investigation. They caused the deaths of two workers and injuries to more than 20. Both happened while workers were being ferried in lorries.
The current debate is a repeat of the one that took place in 2009, when the LTA and the Ministry of Manpower ruled out disallowing the use of lorries, as there was "no strong justification" to merit its impact on businesses.
Instead, they said that higher side railings and canopies must be installed in lorries. At the time, then Transport Minister Raymond Lim had said the 10-month period before and after the measures showed a 17 per cent reduction in injury cases.
Transport and safety specialists, however, have expressed concerns that the measures are inadequate.
The open structure of lorries means workers are constantly in danger of falling out, especially in case of impact or collision, they said.
Unlike passenger vehicles, lorries might not have been crash-tested to see how a collision could potentially affect those ferried on them.
A mandatory switch to buses, however, will face strong resistance from firms, which have bought lorries so that they can use the same vehicles to move both people and equipment.