Oral Answer by Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education, to a Parliamentary Question on the Government's Efforts to Ensure the Safety of Outdoor Workers Exposed to the Haze
Notice Paper No. 237 of 2013 For The Sitting On
8 Jul 2013 Question No. 1264 For Oral Answer
MP: Ms Janice Koh
To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower (a) how has the Ministry been working with employers to ensure the safety of workers in sectors that involve regular, extended exposure outdoors to the haze, such as those from the construction and shipyard industries; (b) what steps are being taken to educate workers in such sectors about the use of protective masks and the ill-effects of prolonged haze exposure, particularly foreign workers not fluent in English; (c) what is the Government doing to take the lead in this effort; (d) what are the penalties for errant employers who put susceptible workers at risk; and (e) what recourse do local and foreign workers have in such cases, especially those who are non-unionised.
- MOM takes a serious view of employers not safeguarding the safety and health of workers working in the haze and I would like to assure Ms Janice Koh that concrete steps are being taken to ensure that the health of our workers are being looked after.
- We have issued guidelines to help employers and employees to mitigate the ill-effects of the haze. Daily advisories are being issued based on the projected 24-hour PSI and the Workplace Safety and Health Council is actively engaging the respective industry bodies on the haze issue. For SMEs who have difficulty procuring the N95 masks, we have put in place a framework to help link them directly with the N95 suppliers. We are also working with tripartite partners to help businesses make short term adjustments to their work arrangements so that their employees’ exposure to the ill effects of the haze can be minimized. For workers who are not fluent in English, supervisors directing the workers should guide them on the proper haze management procedures as per what is done for daily tool box briefings which are conducted in the workers’ native language.
- There is no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with the haze. A solution adopted by one company may not always be optimal for another. For example, McDonalds and Pizza Hut had temporarily suspended their delivery services when the haze level was at the unhealthy range but it may not be reasonable to expect all companies to follow suit. Each company should make its own risk assessment on how best to ensure the safety and health of its workers and carry out its plans accordingly.
- I am glad to note that many companies have proactively taken measures to mitigate the effect of the haze and I applaud them for doing so. The WSH Council conducted a survey with companies and found that almost two-thirds of the approximately 800 respondents decided to temporarily stop outdoor work when PSI levels were excessively high. Majority of the companies surveyed had also put in place regular communications with their employees on the haze and had made some adjustments to their work arrangements, such as reducing outdoor work or allowing staff to work from home, where possible.
- MOM has witnessed some good practices in our visits to the industry. Tiong Seng Contractors Pte Ltd, for example, had put in place systems to remind workers of the need to hydrate and wear masks for outdoor work. The company also had clear guidelines to stop all lifting works when the haze situation is excessive, to ensure that the reduced visibility does not affect the safety of its workers.
- On the government’s end, the Public Service Division (PSD) has been working closely with all the public sector agencies on the measures to take, taking reference from national health advisories on precautionary measures in the workplace to help officers carry out their duties safely and effectively. When the haze situation initially worsened, PSD issued daily advisories to agencies. For instance, agencies were informed to look out for officers who need to undertake prolonged and strenuous outdoor work, and to adopt appropriate precautionary measures, taking into account the severity of the haze situation and the health condition of the officers.
- I understand that everyone is anxious about working outdoors in the haze. All employers are expected to put in place reasonably practicable risk mitigating measures, in line with the different specific nature of work. Employees too should take sensible steps to look after themselves and their co-workers.
- If employees believe that their health and safety is at risk, they should first raise their concerns with their employers. If the issue cannot be resolved, they can raise it to MOM and we will investigate accordingly. Employers found guilty for failure to implement effective risk management to mitigate the WSH risks can be fined a maximum of $10,000 for the first offence. For a second or subsequent offence, the penalty is a fine of up to $20,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both.