Response to Adjournment Motion on "Keeping Workplaces Safe Beyond the Heightened Safety Period" by MP Melvin Yong
Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Parliament
1. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I ask the Clerks to distribute a handout.
2. I thank the Member for raising this matter. Workplace safety and health (WSH) did not begin with the start of the Heightened Safety Period (HSP), neither does it stop when the HSP ends.
3. Every worker deserves a safe and healthy working environment. Our starting position is Vision Zero. We will always strive for zero fatality as every fatality is one too many, and every incident is preventable.
a. Our WSH aspiration remains to achieve a fatal injury rate of below 1.0 per 100,000 workers on a sustained basis by 2028.
b. What this means is that we – the Government, employers and workers – must continue to strengthen our workplace safety culture and work environments to achieve this.
Current WSH Landscape
4. As the Member had pointed out, the fatal injury rate has improved to 0.8 per 100,000 workers in the first half of 2023.
a. Prior to the HSP, we faced a fatal injury rate of 1.6 in the first half of 2022, which necessitated heightened measures to stem the tide of incidents.
b. Our progress one year on reflects the outcomes from the HSP, which ended on 31 May 2023.
5. I share the Member’s concern on the number of workplace fatalities since we exited the HSP.
a. However, we do need to recognise that there will be some month-to-month volatility in fatality numbers and assess the situation over a longer period.
6. I would like to assure the Member that our rolling 12-month fatal injury rate to-date is 1.0, which remains close to our WSH 2028 aspiration of below 1.0.
7. I would like to refer Members to the international WSH comparison chart in the handout.
8. Thus far, only four countries in the world have achieved a fatality rate of below 1.0 consistently.
a. Singapore ranked fifth based on our 3-year average fatal injury rate, after the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.
b. Other countries in Asia have not achieved this.
MAST’s SAFE Measures
9. We have retained most of the broad based and sectoral HSP measures, such as
a. Requiring Chief Executives to personally account for serious WSH lapses; and
b. Introducing a revised Demerit Points System to debar more errant Construction companies from hiring foreign employees for a period of time.
10. Following the HSP exit, the Multi-Agency Workplace Safety and Health Taskforce (MAST) introduced a set of Safe Accountability, Focus and Empowerment (SAFE) measures to instil greater WSH accountability at the sector, company and individual levels.
a. MAST is progressively rolling out these SAFE measures and will continue to drive new measures.
b. Members can refer to the infographic in the handout.
11. I hope this assures Members that we hold ourselves to high standards, and we will not let up on our efforts.
12. We have seen improvement in the Construction sector in the first half of 2023. In particular, fatal injuries for regular construction worksites improved, as our efforts kept them vigilant.
13. More targeted interventions are required for smaller-scale construction work, including Renovations and Facility Management, which accounted for majority of the fatal and major injuries in Construction.
a. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is working with relevant agencies to enhance the safety standards for such contractors.
14. MAST will also continue to strengthen WSH ownership in Construction, such as introducing more stringent safety requirements and a WSH bonus scheme for public project tenders.
15. Another sector of concern is Manufacturing.
16. Manufacturing was the top contributor of workplace fatal and major injuries in the first half of 2023, with 35% more injuries compared to the second half of 2022.
17. The expansion of the Demerit Points System to the Manufacturing sector in October 2023 should deter WSH breaches and strengthen standards.
a. Egregious companies will be temporarily debarred from hiring foreign workers.
Stricter penalties to deter WSH contraventions
18. I agree with the Member on the need to increase financial penalties to deter WSH contraventions. During HSP, we doubled the quantum of composition fines for WSH lapses and have retained this measure.
19. To further enhance deterrence, we will be increasing the maximum fines from $20,000 to $50,000 for breaches of WSH Act Subsidiary Legislation that could result in death or serious bodily injury.
20. Beyond composition fines and Stop Work Orders, the maximum penalty for WSH Act breaches for an individual is a fine of up to $200,000, and/or two years imprisonment, while that for a company is a fine of up to $500,000.
Safety by Design
21. On the Member’s suggestion to expand the current WSH (Design for Safety) Regulations, I agree that “Design for Safety” is important.
a. It is an upstream process to identify and reduce risks through good design at the conceptual and planning stages, such as incorporating safe access to maintenance in the building design.
22. Employers’ duties to conduct risk management and take reasonable steps to eliminate or minimise risk serves as a safety net.
a. This ensures that employers continuously provide and maintain a safe and healthy work environment for their employees.
b. In doing so, they should already consider control measures such as providing appropriate safety training and equipment to reduce the risks.
Workplace Safety and Health Officers
23. Competent WSH officers who can manage WSH risks are essential to support better WSH outcomes.
a. MAST is looking to strengthen the effectiveness of WSH officers and their reporting lines to stakeholders, so that they can carry out their duties better.
24. On the Member’s suggestion to expand WSH officers to other higher-risk industries, we need to first assess the effectiveness of having WSH officers in such industries and the potential impact on workplace fatal and major injuries.
25. Even so, it is more important for corporate leadership to take charge and be accountable for WSH.
a. Their influence over resources and priorities drive their organisations’ safety culture.
b. MOM had earlier rolled out the Approved Code of Practice for Company Directors’ WSH Duties to provide guidance on how they may fulfil their WSH obligations.
26. MOM is also reviewing our framework to close the gap where errant companies or culpable company directors can absolve their WSH responsibilities by setting up a new entity to circumvent penalties due to WSH breaches, such as debarment from hiring foreign workers.
a. This is aligned with the Member’s suggestion to have a disqualification framework or to extend WSH penalties from joint ventures to partnering companies.
Tightened enforcement and Whistleblowing
27. The Member suggested that MOM should tighten our WSH enforcement and make the reporting of unsafe workplace practices easier.
28. MOM has not wavered in our enforcement efforts. On the contrary, we have intensified inspections to ensure that employers maintain a strong focus on safety.
29. Earlier in May, MAST launched the National WSH Campaign with the theme “Reporting Saves Lives”, to support workers in taking ownership of their own and their co-workers’ safety. The Campaign called for employers to facilitate an internal reporting system for workers to report unsafe workplace practices to their supervisors.
30. MOM has also enhanced various channels to make reporting easy, including having a dedicated SnapSAFE page on MOM website. SnapSAFE is easy to use. One just updates a photo and key in a brief description of the occurrence. Members of the public can play an important role to be our “eyes on the ground”, by reporting unsafe practices. MOM looks into every reported case and will take action against errant work practices and we will also offer whistleblower protection.
31. Sir, we remain committed to Vision Zero and our WSH2028 goals. While we have exited HSP, rest assured that we continue to pursue SAFE measures to build stronger workplace safety culture and ownership across Singapore.
32. We cannot achieve this on our own. All of us, corporate leadership, industry associations, union leaders and workers, must continue to play our part to uplift WSH, so that every worker can return home safely to their loved ones.