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Haze guidelines and advisory for work

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Impact of haze on health

1. Which haze index should employers monitor so as to decide what measures to take to protect their workers?Show

Employers should refer to the 24-hr PSI forecast on the NEA website, as well as the updated health advisories on the NEA website (www.nea.gov.sg) or the Haze website (www.haze.gov.sg).

The impact on one’s health is dependent on the quality of air, duration of exposure and one’s health conditions. Employers can take reference from MOM’s guideline to employers, available on MOM’s website (www.mom.gov.sg/haze) and the Haze website (www.haze.gov.sg) for general measures to minimise or mitigate the effects of haze on their employees. Additional measures specific to the work requirements and health conditions of the employees would have to be instituted based on the risk as assessed by the employers.

2. What other workplace measures can companies consider or do to mitigate the impact of the haze on workers?Show

All employers should carry out proper risk assessments of their various work activities and implement appropriate measures, to ensure that the risks identified are minimised or mitigated.

Depending on the air quality, employers should first find ways to reduce or avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor work. Risk assessments, taking into account the impact of the haze, individual employee’s health, work demands and fatigue, etc, must be conducted and risk mitigating measures adopted. Examples of such measures include:

  1. Use mechanical aids (e.g. trolleys, hoists) to transport or carry heavy objects instead of manual lifting or carrying.
  2. Adjust work assignments or rotate jobs to shorten the time spent in outdoor work.
  3. Schedule sufficient indoor rest breaks for workers performing outdoor work.
  4. Ensure adequate hydration for workers.
  5. Monitor employees’ health by encouraging feedback on any symptoms that may occur.
  6. Defer non-essential work.

If prolonged or strenuous outdoor work is not avoidable at higher PSI, and an employer still requires an employee to do so due to extenuating circumstances, suitable masks (e.g. N95 masks) should be provided. Employees who need to wear masks / respirators should be fit-tested to ensure good fit. Employers should ensure sufficient stock of masks / respirators for these employees, and conduct training and supervision to ensure correct usage. Masks should be changed when soiled / physically damaged or when the wearer finds it hard to breathe. Elderly and pregnant employees as well as those with chronic heart / lung disease should consult their treating doctors on the usage of masks.

Reference should be made to the Singapore Standard SS 548:2009: Code of Practice for Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective devices. Employers are strongly encouraged to adopt a flexible and enlightened approach in implementing flexible work arrangements for all staff, especially susceptible employees, such as the elderly, pregnant and those with chronic heart or lung illnesses. Examples of flexible work arrangements include telecommuting.

If their employees feel unwell and wish to rest at home, employers are encouraged to be flexible in allowing them to take their leave. For employees who have used up their annual leave/sick leave entitlements, employers could consider granting them advance leave or other leave arrangements. In such situations, the employees’ wages should not be deducted.

3. MOM’s guidelines advise employers to institute regular rest breaks during the haze. How long would be a sufficient time for each break?Show

MOM’s guidelines provide general measures that employers can take to mitigate the risks their employees face in a haze situation, and is not meant to be prescriptive.

Employers should carry out a proper risk assessment of their various work activities and implement appropriate measures (such as identifying appropriate rest periods) so as to ensure that the risks identified are minimised or mitigated.

4. What should an outdoor worker do if an employer does not heed the advisory on the haze situation?Show

Workers should first raise their concerns to their supervisor, HR department and union representatives. If no action has been taken, workers can call the MOM Contact Centre at 6438 5122 or visit www.mom.gov.sg for general advice.

If there are significant safety concerns on outdoor work during the haze situation, workers can call the MOM Occupational Safety and Health Hotline at 6317 1111 or email mom_oshd@mom.gov.sg.

5. Who can workers turn to if there are employer and employee disputes regarding the haze risk assessment?Show

Workers should first raise their concerns to their supervisor, HR department and union representatives. If no action has been taken, workers can call the MOM Contact Centre at 6438 5122 or visit www.mom.gov.sg for general advice.

If there are significant safety concerns on outdoor work during the haze situation, workers can call the MOM Occupational Safety and Health Hotline at 6317 1111 or email mom_oshd@mom.gov.sg.

6. What penalties can MOM impose if employers do not follow MOM’s guidelines?Show

Under the Workplace Safety & Health Act (WSH Act), employers have a duty to protect their employees’ safety and health at work.

In situations where haze poses risk to the safety and health of workers and measures have not been taken to mitigate those risks, either by adopting measures suggested in the advisory or other alternative mitigation measures, MOM may order the affected work to stop. If any person (individual or corporate bodies) subsequently fails to comply with a stop work order, under the WSH Act he shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

Our inspectors will be looking out for employers who disregard the safety and health of their workers, especially those performing strenuous and prolonged outdoor work.

7. If an employee suffers injury or illness while working in hazy conditions, will the worker be eligible for work injury compensation?Show

Under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), an employee who sustains an illness / injury arising out of and in the course of employment is eligible to claim work injury compensation from his employer.

Employers should notify MOM (through the iReport tool on the MOM website) if any employee has sustained an illness/injury due to working outdoors during the haze. For cases where the employee is able to recover over time and resume work without permanent ill effects, employers should pay any medical leave wages and medical expenses due directly to the employee.

Use and availability of masks

The threshold for usage of N95 masks or equivalent for protection of outdoor workers is suggested at lower PSI than for the general public as work commitments may require prolonged outdoor exposure or strenuous work on a regular basis. Employers should refer to the MOM guidelines for more details on situations where suitable masks or respirators have to be used. In general, work arrangements to reduce outdoor work such as frequent breaks and job rotation should be made to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor work. Use of mechanical aids such as trolleys, lifts or hoists instead of manual lifting and carrying could also reduce the strenuous nature of these activities.

Where outdoor work is unavoidable, employers should provide suitable masks (based on the MOM’s guidelines) to protect workers.

If N95 masks are used, employers and employees should note that these increase the effort of breathing. For some employees, this may cause discomfort in breathing, tiredness or headache. This may be due to their masks causing increased resistance to breathing, and a reduction in the volume of air breathed. Employers should consider instituting regular breaks and encourage hydration of employees using masks. Risk assessment, taking into account the usage of the respirators, individual employee’s heath conditions and nature of outdoor work must be conducted.

9. What should employers do if they have difficulty obtaining respirators such as N95 masks for their staff / workers?Show

Masks are available at major supermarkets, such as NTUC Fairprice and Cold Storage, and at pharmacies such as Guardian, Watsons and Unity. The national stockpile of N95 masks may be released to the major pharmacies and supermarkets if more are needed.

Leave and salary matters

10. For employees who need to take leave arising from the haze, but have run out of their leave entitlements, what can they do?Show

Some employees may be unable to report for work because they are unwell or need to take care of their family members, e.g. family members are unwell because of the haze, or require alternative childcare arrangements as school / childcare facilities are closed.

They are encouraged to:

  • Discuss with their employers on the feasibility of adopting flexible work arrangements (FWAs) to meet organisational and personal needs.
  • Where FWAs are not feasible, employees may wish to seek approval from their employers to take time-off, use advance leave or other leave arrangements.

11. If employers decide that work should be stopped in view of the haze situation, can the employees’ salaries or annual leave be deducted on that day?Show

Employers who wish to suspend business operations should take note of the following:

  • If the suspension is on a short-term and ad-hoc basis, employers should bear the costs of doing so and not deduct from the pay or leave entitlements of their affected employees.
  • If the suspension of business operations is for longer periods, employers should discuss with their union and employees on the appropriate flexible work, leave and salary arrangements to be put in place.

12. Can employers ask employees to take annual leave if the company closes or operations have stopped due to the haze situation?Show

If the suspension is on a short-term and ad-hoc basis, employers should bear the costs of doing so and not deduct from the pay or leave entitlements of their affected employees. If the suspension of business operations is for longer periods, employers should discuss with their union and employees on the appropriate flexible work, leave and salary arrangements to be put in place.

13. Who can employees turn to if there are employer and employee disputes regarding leave and salaries?Show

Employers are strongly encouraged to put in place in advance internal company grievance handling procedures to manage any haze-related employment disputes. Employees should first approach their employers to resolve the matter amicably. If there are disagreements, the issue should be raised to the management via union representatives or your HR. If the dispute cannot be resolved amicably, you can make an online enquiry via www.mom.gov.sg/feedback or call the MOM Contact Centre at 6438 5122, for further assistance.

Respiratory protection during haze when 24-hour PSI>400 and outdoor work is prolonged

14. What workplace measures can companies take to mitigate the impact of the haze on workers in hazardous haze situations (when PSI exceeds 300)?Show

All employers should carry out proper risk assessments of their various work activities and implement appropriate measures, to ensure that the risks identified are minimised or mitigated.

When 24-hour PSI exceeds 300, minimising outdoor work and deferring non-essential work and other haze mitigation measures should remain the primary consideration. However, when outdoor work is unavoidable, suitable masks or respirators should be provided.

When 24-hour PSI exceeds 400, non-essential work should be deferred. If outdoor work is unavoidable, an N95 mask which has a protection factor (PF) of 10 may not provide these workers with sufficient respiratory protection during prolonged outdoor work. As such, respirators with higher PF, such as full face respirators with PF of 50, should be considered in such situations.

Companies should identify and estimate the number of workers who are required to perform prolonged work when PSI exceeds 400, as these workers would require fit-testing and training on the use of the respirators. Companies would need to ensure that sufficient numbers of the respirators are available.

15. How did MOM come out with the trigger level of PSI 400, above which respirators with higher PF should be used?Show

In deriving this estimate, we had considered the particulate level and the duration which workers may be exposed to haze at work, as well as practical factors. When prolonged outdoor work is carried out at PSI levels above 400, an N95 mask with a protection factor of 10 may not provide the workers with sufficient respiratory protection. A respirator with higher PF will be able to provide sufficient respiratory protection and reduce exposure.

16. What is the definition of “prolonged” work?Show

“Prolonged” work refers to work with continuous exposure for several hours, based on the Ministry of Health Advisory for General Public.

17. What activities are considered “unavoidable”?Show

While there is no explicit definition for the term “unavoidable”, this will include critical and essential work such as security, utilities and maintenance, logistics and supply, and waste management.

Companies should identify and estimate the number of workers who are required to perform these activities for prolonged periods when PSI exceeds 400.

18. What respirators are suitable for use when 24-hour PSI exceeds 400?Show

When 24-hour PSI exceeds 400, respirators with higher PF such as full-face respirators are suitable. Powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) with full-face can also be used for greater comfort. Reference should be made to the Singapore Standard SS 548:2009: Code of Practice for Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective devices.

19. Are all workers able to wear respirators? Is a medical screening necessary prior to use of respirators?Show

Workers who need to wear respirators at work are required to undergo a medical assessment for fitness to use respirators. Workers with certain medical conditions such as lung problems may not be medically fit to use respirators. Please refer to the Singapore Standard SS 548:2009: Code of Practice for Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective devices for additional details.

20. Can employees wear safety helmets together with the full-face respirators?Show

When other Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) such as safety helmets, eye protectors, hearing protectors or protective clothing are used, care should be taken to ensure that the protection offered by the PPE is not compromised. Respirator selection should include an assessment of the effect of its use on other PPEs. Please see the Singapore Standard SS548:2009 Code of Practice for selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective devices for more information.

21. Which are the suppliers for full-face respirators in Singapore?Show

The suppliers for full-face respirators include the following companies: 3M, Draeger, Honeywell, MSA, Scott Safety and Sundstrom. The list of companies is not exhaustive. Enquiries regarding costs can be made directly with the suppliers.

22. Why wasn’t guidance on using full face respirators at hazardous PSI levels included in the earlier version of the guidelines? Show

The current measures such as minimising or avoiding prolonged or strenuous outdoor work, adopting risk mitigating measures like using mechanical aids, adjusting work assignments or rotating jobs to shorten time spent in outdoor work, scheduling sufficient indoor rest breaks and the use of N95 masks when working outdoors at certain PSI levels, would cover for haze situations that we have encountered so far. In the event that the 24-hour PSI levels exceed 400, we expect that almost all outdoor work would have ceased except for essential work).

While the existing measures include the use of the N95 mask provide protection to the workers concerned, the use of full face respirators (which have a higher protection factor) will provide a greater level of protection, particularly for prolonged work at such PSI levels, thus enabling essential work to continue safely. MOM has consulted with the relevant industry stakeholders on the need, usage and impact of using such respirators for outdoor work at such PSI levels. The industry understands the need and supports this.

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Last Updated: 6 February 2017