Enhanced & Safe Working Conditions Must Be In Place Before FDWs Allowed to Clean Window Exteriors
MOM to send safety circular to all FDW employers
4 June 2012
- The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has been deeply concerned about the recent spate of Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) work-related fatalities. Since January 2012, there have been nine work-related FDW fall from heights fatalities, compared to four cases for the whole of 2011 and eight in 2010. Our investigations show that five of the nine fatalities were related to FDWs cleaning windows in an unsafe manner. Two arose from hanging laundry, while the causes of the last two are pending further investigation.
- This tragic and unnecessary loss of lives could have been prevented if FDWs and FDW employers took safe work practices seriously. With immediate effect, employers of FDWs shall not allow their FDWs to clean the exterior of windows unless strict safety conditions are in place. MOM also urges anyone who cleans exterior windows to apply these same strict safety conditions.
- MOM has already established extensive legislative, enforcement and education measures to address FDW work-related safety:
a. Legislation: The Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations (EFMR) requires employers to provide safe working conditions and ensure their FDWs perform their duties according to the safe work practices stipulated by MOM in its training course and safety materials. Employers who fail to do so can be prosecuted, and upon conviction be fined up to $5,000 and/ or jailed up to 6 months.
b. Enforcement: From 2007 to 2011, 14 employers were found to have endangered the lives of their FDWs. 9 employers were prosecuted and were permanently barred from hiring FDWs. On 3 May 2012, an employer was fined the maximum penalty of $5,000 for failing to ensure the safety of her FDW who fell while cleaning windows.
c. Education: First-time FDW employers and FDWs are educated on safe work practices through the online or classroom Employers’ Orientation Programme (EOP) as well as the 1-day Settling-In Programme (SIP) for new FDWs that started on 1 May 2012.
In the SIP, FDWs receive verbal and practical instruction in their native languages on how to perform household chores safely, especially cleaning windows and hanging laundry. They are also each given a handy guide and safety pamphlet (in English and their native language) with pictures of the safety Dos and Don’ts.
Under the new SIP, we have increased the emphasis and time spent on the safety messages. SIP trainers will note down their observations of each FDW during the practical component. If trainers observe that the new FDW is having difficulties doing certain household chores safely, these points will be shared with the FDWs’ employment agencies and their new employers.
Stakeholders Came Together To Deliberate on Solutions
- MOM engaged a variety of stakeholders to hear different perspectives of this issue, and invited them to co-develop effective solutions. Views from members of the public in letters to both the media and MOM, comments on online forums, MOM Facebook, and e-mails to MOM were taken into account. Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin’s blogposts on this issue generated a fruitful discussion on solutions to the problem. MOM also conducted a door-to-door survey among some 600 households to better understand window cleaning practices. In-depth, one-on-one interviews with FDWs as well as a townhall session were conducted with employers, members of public, employment agencies, trainers, and NGOs.
- There was a strong consensus across the different stakeholder groups in support of stronger enforcement efforts against errant employers, including raising penalties for endangerment; and increased education for FDWs and FDW employers.
- Given that window cleaning has been the major reason for FDW fatal falls, most stakeholders also called for the government to require that FDWs not be allowed to clean window exteriors, unless there is adult supervision and window grilles are locked. There was less support for a ban on window-cleaning regardless of precautions taken, as there are safe ways to clean window exteriors such as through locked grilles and with the use of extendable wipers. Further, MOM’s survey showed that most households, including those without FDWs, cleaned their window exteriors fairly frequently; among those who did, most had window grilles.
- MOM thanks the different stakeholders who have contributed their views and participated in the survey. We have taken into account the feedback and are enhancing the rules further to stem further tragedies.
FDWs Not Allowed to Clean Window Exteriors Unless Enhanced & Safe Working Conditions are in Place
- With immediate effect, employers of FDWs shall not allow their FDWs to clean the exteriors of windows except where two conditions are met:
a. The employer or an adult representative of the employer is physically present to supervise the FDW; and
b. Window grilles have been installed and are locked at all times during the cleaning process.
The new rules will apply to all homes, except for windows that are at the ground level or along common corridors.
- Anyone who cleans the exteriors of their windows at home should follow similar safety requirements. But when FDWs are tasked to do domestic work, the onus is on both employers and FDWs themselves to ensure the FDWs’ safety.
- Many FDWs do not come from high-rise environments and may not be used to the urban living environment in Singapore. They are therefore likely to be unaware of the risks in a high-rise domestic setting. Apart from window cleaning, employers should take necessary steps to eliminate the risks involved in other tasks by following the Dos and Don’ts covered in MOM’s guidebooks and pamphlets. For example, if FDWs are required to hang laundry outside the window using bamboo poles, employers should ensure their FDWs do not stand on an elevated platform or tip toe while handling the poles, and do not overload the pole with too many clothes.
- Employers should refer to the FDW Employer Handy Guidebook to familiarise themselves with the safety Dos and Don’ts. In addition, they can refer to safety tips at MOM’s website at http://www.mom.gov.sg/statistics-publications/others/publications/Pages/workpass-fdw.aspx or email firstname.lastname@example.org if they have queries on FDW safety issues. Once again, we strongly urge anyone who performs household chores that may put themselves at risk of falls from heights to follow these same safety tips.
MOM to Issue Safety Circular to All FDW Employers
- MOM will be sending a circular to all existing FDW employers to notify them of the tightened safety requirements. MOM will also be updating its training materials for first-time FDWs and FDW employers. Failure to comply with these tightened requirements constitutes a breach of the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations. Employers who fail to comply may be prosecuted and permanently barred from hiring an FDW.
Penalties to be Enhanced in On-going Review of Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA)
- For added deterrence, MOM also plans to raise the penalty for employers prosecuted for failing to provide FDWs with a safe working environment. We intend to double the penalties from the current $5,000 fine and/or six months’ jail to $10,000 fine and/or 12 months’ jail. This is part of the ongoing review of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and its subsidiary legislation later this year.
Report Incidents of Unsafe Practices to MOM
- Members of the public can also play an important role in helping MOM foster a safe working environment for FDWs. The public can take photographs of unsafe work practices and send them to MOM using the free SNAP@MOM application that was recently launched. [Please refer to Annex A for fact sheet on SNAP@MOM.] Alternatively, the public can email email@example.com with information that would help us in investigations, such as photographs showing the FDW working dangerously, the date, time and location of the incident. All information will be kept strictly confidential.
Annex A - Fact Sheet On SNAP@MOM
How SNAP@MOM works
SNAP@MOM is supported on iPhone (IOS 4.3 and above) and Android (Android OS v2.2 and above) mobile devices. Anyone can search for “SNAP@MOM” at iTunes Apps Store or Google Play, download and install this free application on their mobile
- Users who launch SNAP@MOM for the first time will be required to register their contact information1.
- Thereafter, users can start to use this application by taking a photo of the work practice, identifying the location via the application’s GPS feature, adding details and sending it. The feedback, including the photographs sent by the users, can only be viewed by the respective participating workplace occupiers and MOM.
- For reports of unsafe workplace practices concerning FDWs, MOM will look into the feedback.
For more information about SNAP@MOM, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Such information can only be viewed by MOM for purpose of verifying details of the feedback where required.