Written Answer by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Manpower, to Parliamentary Question on Measures to Prevent Increase in Workplace Injuries
Notice Paper No. 300 of 2014 For The Sitting On 07 October 2014 Question No. 253 For Written Answer
MP: Ms Tin Pei Ling
To ask the Minister for Manpower in view of the increase in number of workplace injuries in the first half of 2014 when compared to the same period last year (a) what are the steps taken to ensure that the number of fatalities and injuries do not increase further; and (b) whether the Ministry will consider revising the penalties for contractors found guilty of safety violations.
- My Ministry has been closely monitoring and taking active steps to address our overall workplace safety and health performance. Excluding work-related traffic accidents, we had 30 workplace fatalities in the first half of 2014, 5 more compared to the same period last year. 17 of these fatalities in 2014 occurred in the construction sector alone.
- The workplace safety performance of the construction sector is of particular concern. The challenges faced by the construction sector are multi-faceted; from meeting the strong demands of construction projects amid a dynamic operating landscape, to managing risks throughout its multi-subcontracting system. As such, my Ministry adopts a dual-pronged approach to drive the industry towards working safely. First, immediate measures were taken since early this year to arrest the increased incidences of fatalities and injuries in the construction sector. Second, medium term measures have been set out to sustain improvements in WSH performance. Let me elaborate on both set of measures.
- My Ministry has stepped up enforcement efforts in high risk sectors such as construction and marine, and has taken stern action against companies for workplace safety violations. In the first eight months of this year, about 4,600 inspections were carried out. 51 Stop Work Orders, close to 2,000 Composition Fines and more than 6,000 Notices of Non-Compliance were issued. Those issued with the Stop Work Order (SWO) are required to address systemic lapses in addition to physical lapses before their SWO can be lifted. In addition, poor performing companies are placed under the Business Under Surveillance (BUS) Programme for close monitoring and supervision, and have to fulfil more stringent exit criteria. We have also applied for stronger penalties for cases where there were serious breaches of the law, including higher fines against employers who failed in their duties. All these immediate measures serve to emphasize the importance of workplace safety, as well as to deter lapses and non-compliant behaviour.
- As I have shared with the House previously, my Ministry has carried out a review to strengthen the WSH Demerit Points System, which aims to identify contractors with poor work practices and restrict their access to foreign manpower if there are no improvement in their safety records. We have completed the review and are consulting the industry to gather their feedback on an enhanced Demerit Point System. Broadly, there are two key proposed enhancements to strengthen the system’s deterrence effect against errant companies who blatantly flout safety rules. First, the system will be simplified to a single-stage system where accumulation of demerit points will result in longer periods of debarment. Secondly, the number of demerit points to be issued will be recalibrated to commensurate with the gravity of offences. Further details of the changes would be released in the first quarter of 2015.
- To complement these enforcement measures, my Ministry has also accelerated our efforts to raise industry’s awareness and capabilities in WSH. For instance, the number of Safety Compliance Assistance Visits (or “SCAV”), where we provide WSH assistance through on-site coaching, have been doubled from 800 in 2013 to 1600 in 2014. Since May 2014, SCAV has visited over 800 workplaces and helped more than half of them to identify and rectify WSH lapses that could have led to fatal worksite accidents.
- The immediate measures that I have highlighted are necessary but not sufficient to bring about sustained improvement in WSH performance. The latter requires behavioural changes where all stakeholders take greater ownership of workplace safety. We have identified a number of medium term measures to bring about this change. As announced by DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the launch of this year’s Workplace Safety and Health Campaign in May, we will make Design for Safety (or ‘DfS’) a mandatory requirement for future building projects. DfS will require the developers, designers and other project stakeholders to work together to address WSH risks at the design and planning phase rather than having it mitigated downstream at the construction phase. The joint taskforce with the Building and Construction Authority has been set up and comprises government agencies, industry associations and relevant stakeholders. The proposed DfS framework is now undergoing consultation with key industry stakeholders and we will announce the implementation details by first quarter of 2015.
- Allow me to end off by saying that achieving sustained improvement in safety performance requires everyone in the workplace to take the responsibility to make their workplace a safer one. MOM will continue to work closely with the industry to raise WSH standards, but we will also not hesitate to take stern action against errant stakeholders.