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Greater Vigilance Needed with Workplace Injury Rate Returning to Pre-COVID Levels in Late 2020

1. The total number of workplace injuries for 2020 fell by 18%, from 13,779 in 2019 to 11,350 in 2020, while workplace fatalities reduced from 39 in 2019 to 30 in 2020.  This translates to a workplace fatal injury rate of 0.9 per 100,000 workers.  The fewer injuries were due largely to the suspension of workplace activities in the second and third quarters of 2020 to manage the COVID-19 outbreak.
 

2. However, the number of workplace injuries reverted to pre-COVID levels by the fourth quarter of 2020, with 3,413 workplace injuries reported compared to 3,445 in the same quarter in 2019.

 

Fatal injuries

 

Leading causes continue to be ‘Falls From Height’ and ‘Vehicular incidents’

3. Falls from height continued to be the top contributor of workplace fatalities, with eight cases in 2020, compared to seven in 2019. Vehicular incidents accounted for four cases in 2020, compared to seven in 2019. Together, they contributed to 40% of all fatal workplace accidents last year.

 

Major and minor injuries

 

‘Slips, Trips and Falls’ and ‘Machinery Incidents’ remained as leading causes 

4. Slips, Trips and Falls (STF) and Machinery Incidents remained the leading causes of non-fatal injuries, contributing to nearly half of all major injuries last year. However, the number of incidents has decreased significantly due to Covid-related work stoppages. There were 159 STF major injuries in 2020, down from 216 in 2019; and 3,318 STF minor injuries, down from 3,694 in 2019. Machinery incidents accounted for 58 major injuries in 2020 compared to 82 in 2019; and 1,696 minor injuries compared to 2,178 in 2019.

 

Injuries by Industry

 

Construction remains top contributor despite work stoppages; Manufacturing a growing area of concern

5. Construction and Manufacturing made up for half of all workplace fatalities last year. Construction continued to account for the highest number of fatalities, although it decreased significantly, with nine cases in 2020 compared to 13 in 2019. The fatal injury rate also fell from 2.9 per 100,000 workers in 2019 to 2.2 per 100,000 workers in 2020. This was likely due to work stoppages in the second and third quarters of 2020.

6. However, closer attention should be paid to the Manufacturing sector, which saw six fatalities in 2020, compared to four in 2019. Its fatal injury rate increased from 1.0 per 100,000 workers in 2019 to 1.5 per 100,000 workers in 2020. In addition, Manufacturing was also the top contributor of non-fatal injuries last year, with 110 major and 2,330 minor injuries.

Dangerous Occurrences

 

Collapse/Failure of structures main cause of Dangerous Occurrence

7. The number of dangerous occurrences1 (DOs) was halved, from 21 in 2019 to 10 in 2020. This was likely due to work stoppages, especially in the construction sector. Seven cases were caused by collapse/failure of structures, and the other three were fires and explosion.

 

Occupational Diseases

 

Occupational Disease increased, in part due to COVID-19 cases

8. The number of Occupational Diseases (ODs) increased slightly by 2%, from 517 cases in 2019 to 528 in 2020. This was partly contributed by 34 COVID-19 cases, which were classified as work-related. The top three ODs were work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSD), noise-induced deafness (NID), and infectious diseases, which in total accounted for 89% (472) of all OD cases in 2020.

 

16 Stop Work Orders and 281 fines since December 2020

 

9. The escalating injury rate in late 2020 and the spate of accidents in February 2021 is cause for concern.  Companies could be rushing to catch up on project delays following work stoppages and exacerbated by manpower disruptions due to the pandemic. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) urges companies not to neglect WSH while balancing project schedules and manpower constraints.  Companies should refresh workers’ WSH training and review risk assessments, especially if there have been changes to their work processes or workplace due to COVID-19.

 

10. To reinforce this message, between mid-December 2020 to mid-March 2021, MOM mounted more than 1,000 inspections under Ops ROBIN, targeting high risk industries and found contraventions in 55% of workplaces inspected.  We issued a total of 13 Stop-Work Orders, 264 composition fines amounting to $303,000 and 1,270 Notices of Non-Compliance. The top contraventions uncovered include fall from height risks, and poor maintenance of heavy machinery such as excavators, boom lifts and forklifts.

 

11. Following the fatal Tuas explosion on 24 February 2021 that killed 3 and injured another 7 workers, MOM convened an Inquiry Committee (IC) to look into the causes and circumstances that led to the accident. Before the findings are made known, MOM has also stepped up inspections, launching Ops BULLFINCH 2, which targeted 500 companies working with combustible dust that could pose similar risks. Around half of them have been inspected so far.  Most companies inspected generated small quantities of dust with low explosion risk. However, three companies were found to have inadequate control measures despite significant risk of combustible dust explosions and were issued Stop-Work Orders.

 

12. In the meantime, it is also in companies’ interests to have adequate safety measures in place. The consequence of a combustible dust explosion can be severe. Hence, MOM urges all companies with operations involving combustible dust to undertake a review of their control measures.

 

 

Focusing on Slips, Trips and Falls (STFs)

 

13. Beyond enforcement operations on higher-risk workplaces, we continue to be concerned about Slips, Trips and Falls (STFs), which were prevalent in the cleaning, transport, F&B and security industries.  This is especially pertinent for an aging workforce where STFs may result in a more serious injury.  MOM and the WSH Council will be engaging these industries to improve their WSH training and better educate them on STF prevention. The WSH Council will also launch a campaign in June to encourage companies to prevent STFs and create greater awareness among all workers.

 

14. Together with IMDA and BCA, MOM is working with a technology firm and industry partners to develop a solution to prevent STFs. A prototype was developed through the Built Environment Accelerate to Market Programme: Digital (BEAMP: D) on Open Innovation Platform (OIP) to detect STF incidents, near misses and hazards using video analytics and wearables. The prototype has been test-bedded with the industry partners and is currently ready to market for use by industry.  More information on STF technology can be found in Annex C.

 

15. Commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health and Divisional Director of MOM’s Occupational Safety and Health Division, Mr Silas Sng, said, “The commitment of a company’s leadership is key to preventing accidents.  They should not wait for inspectors to pick up lapses, but should instead proactively take steps to assess the risk of their operations and take adequate control measures to prevent accidents from occurring”.

FOOTNOTE

  1. Incidents with a high potential for multiple fatalities