Work safety checks to be stepped up after spate of deaths

16 fatal accidents so far this year; some of these could have been prevented, says Zaqy

More workplace safety inspections will be conducted here this quarter after 16 workplace deaths were recorded this year, with seven taking place this month alone, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said yesterday.

Speaking at the launch of this year's National Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Campaign at the NTUC Centre in Marina Boulevard, he said there were two separate fatal accidents the day before, and this month's death toll was the worst since February last year.

Hence, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is devoting more resources to conduct 25 per cent more inspections this quarter compared with the last, Mr Zaqy said.

"This trajectory is worrying, especially when many of these accidents could have been prevented with basic risk controls," he added.

Preliminary investigations for some of the recent accidents found a clear lack of control measures and safe work procedures in place.

Mr Zaqy gave two examples of this. In the case of a forklift operator who died in February at the site of a Build-To-Order project after he was pinned underneath an overturned forklift, the operator was not wearing a seat belt, he said.

In another tragic case this month, in which an engineer stepped on a false ceiling panel while carrying out inspections at the maintenance level of the CapitaSpring building and fell 30m to her death, she was not wearing fall arrest equipment, which could have lowered the risk of her falling from height.

Mr Zaqy said "Our WSH performance over the last few months could, and should, have been better, and these accidents serve as a reminder for us to take workplace safety seriously.

"When we reflect on the basic lapses in the recent accidents, such as not wearing seat belts in vehicles or fall protection gear when working from height, it suggests that the education and outreach that we do may sometimes fall on deaf ears if it is not reinforced by company processes and cultures that prioritise WSH."

He said MOM has been ramping up enforcement operations, focusing on work sites with common accident risks such as work-at-height activities and the use of heavy machinery, including forklifts and elevated platforms.

Inspectors will be checking that risk assessments and safe work procedures are in place, and they will advise companies on best practices where appropriate, and penalise errant companies where needed, Mr Zaqy added.

Meanwhile, the WSH Council will continue to engage companies and workers on how they can be safer.

That is the aim of the new campaign launched yesterday, Mr Zaqy said, to make the awareness of workplace safety and health even more pervasive.

The theme of this year's campaign is "Take time to take care of your safety and health", and one of the initiatives is a new workout and song that calls on workers to "step up" their safety and health.

From May 12, there will be a TikTok challenge for companies and employees to share videos of themselves doing the new workout.

Mr Zaqy said company processes and culture are shaped by senior management, specifically the chief executive and the board.

Hence, MOM and the WSH Council are consulting the tripartite partners - which include the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation - and industry associations to develop a new approved code of practice for company directors on their WSH duties.

This will provide clarity and enhance ownership among CEOs and board members, and introduce measures that are effective in preventing accidents, yet practical and easy to implement, such as having workplace safety as a regular item on a board's agenda.

In the event of any WSH Act offences, compliance with these measures can be used in the courts as evidence that reasonably practicable measures have been taken by company leaders, who are already held liable for ensuring worker safety and health under existing laws, Mr Zaqy said.

At the same time, the courts can also take into account whether companies ignored such guidance in the approved code of practice, Mr Zaqy added.

The aim is to publish this code of practice by early next year.

Last year, workplace fatalities returned to pre-Covid-19 levels, with 37 deaths.

In comparison, there were 30 deaths in 2020 and 39 in 2019.

The workplace fatality rate stood at 1.1 per 100,000 workers.

Singapore's goal is to reduce the fatality rate to below one per 100,000 workers by 2028, a figure achieved by only four countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Mr Zaqy said.

He added: "That is what our workers deserve and, really, as an advanced and developed economy, this is what we need to aspire to."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2022, with the headline Work safety checks to be stepped up after spate of deaths. Subscribe