Workers take a timeout to boost safety

Woh Hup's Digital Proximity Sensor for Heavy Duty Forklift, seen here at the Kim Chuan Depot worksite, uses advanced technology, audible alarms and flashing lights to increase visibility. The RFID sensor provides a 360-degree "collision zone" to prev
Woh Hup's Digital Proximity Sensor for Heavy Duty Forklift, seen here at the Kim Chuan Depot worksite, uses advanced technology, audible alarms and flashing lights to increase visibility. The RFID sensor provides a 360-degree "collision zone" to prevent collision.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
Safety officers looking at a near-miss incident board placed at the canteen of Kim Chuan Depot during Woh Hup's Safety Time Out yesterday. The firm has implemented a near-miss reporting process which encourages workers to report any such incident to
Safety officers looking at a near-miss incident board placed at the canteen of Kim Chuan Depot during Woh Hup's Safety Time Out yesterday. The firm has implemented a near-miss reporting process which encourages workers to report any such incident to their supervisors. Workers are also empowered to stop work if they feel it is unsafe for them to continue working.

Construction firm Woh Hup conducts review under scheme to raise standards

The first thing workmen at construction and civil engineering firm Woh Hup do before work every day is sweat through morning exercises and affirm their commitment to safety through an army-like routine.

Clad in yellow hard hats and a special high-visibility jacket impregnated with permethrin, a mosquito repellent, they then go through a safety briefing before dispersing to their respective worksites.

At its Kim Chuan Depot extension worksite in Hougang Avenue 3 - which employs about 1,000 workers - Woh Hup yesterday went through what is known as a Safety Time Out (STO), despite suffering no worksite fatalities this year.

An STO is a planned event where companies take time off from their routine operations to take stock and review a particular work activity or system to ensure safety.

It involves suspending all or part of a company's operations to identify and address pressing safety concerns, especially in situations involving a near-miss or a fatal accident.

It is an initiative by the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council, which works closely with the Ministry of Manpower, other government agencies and the industry to raise WSH standards in Singapore.

Most of the work involving heavy equipment like cranes and excavators was halted for the STO at Woh Hup yesterday.

Workplace safety in Singapore is under the spotlight after nine workplace deaths last month.

Four deaths were from the construction industry, with two out of the four related to lifting operations.

 
 
 

MOM is investigating the latest death on Nov 23 of a 74-year-old trainer who likely fell while coming out of the toilet at Pek Kio Community Centre. She was sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where she died.

WSH Council chairman John Ng, observing Woh Hup's STO, said the council was deeply concerned about the large number of incidents. It is important to convey the message of safety not only to employers, but also to workers, he said.

At Woh Hup's STO, the firm showed off a raft of measures designed to improve safety.

Its Building Information Modelling system creates a virtual worksite to visualise how the site layout will look in future, which helps supervisors identify and resolve any safety hazards before construction and which also functions as a tool to train workers and foremen before they begin work.

The firm has also put cameras in its cranes to monitor the alertness of operators. Using video analytics, the system detects if an operator is sleepy or smoking in the cab and emits an auditory alert if it detects such behaviour.

Supervisors also use messaging app WhatsApp to report near-misses, which are then shared between the Land Transport Authority and Woh Hup management. Workers are also rewarded monetarily for reporting unsafe work processes.

Crane operator Pun Weng Kei, 56, said the video analytics system in the crane helps him stay alert. He takes more frequent breaks as a result.

"I support the STO. There have been too many workplace incidents already," he said.


MOM urges Ken-Pal to step up efforts after 2 worksite deaths

After two deaths at the same worksite in a year, construction company Ken-Pal cannot adopt a "business-as-usual attitude", the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday.

The local firm - whose past projects include the dolphin pool at Underwater World and Tampines Lodge - suffered two workplace deaths in March and November at the same worksite in Sengkang.

Both incidents are under investigation by MOM and the police.

In a strongly worded Facebook post yesterday, the ministry called on the company to "step up their presence, supervision and control on site to prevent further accidents".

 
 

The March accident involved a 36-year-old Indian national, who was struck by a sheet pile while at work. The second accident in November involved a 37-year-old Bangladeshi national who was caught between metal barricades and the counterweight of a crawler crane when the crane rotated.

The ministry said the commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health (WSH), Mr Silas Sng, and his team in MOM met Ken-Pal's top management on Wednesday for them to account for their second fatality at the same worksite.

The ministry noted that Ken-Pal's management had proposed "additional control measures" after the second accident.

But it added: "The top management needs to adopt zero tolerance so that a clear signal is sent to all staff that WSH is taken seriously within the company. This is what taking ownership of WSH means for top management."

Ken-Pal was placed under the Business Under Surveillance programme after the first accident in March, which helps poor-performing companies improve their workplace safety and health.

Calls made to Ken-Pal's office last evening were not returned by press time.

The ministry said it will continue to take a "firm enforcement stance" against companies that fail to provide safe working conditions.

"We urge the top management of companies to do their part to prevent accidents at work. Every worker deserves to return home from work safely."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2019, with the headline 'Workers take a timeout to boost safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe