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Collective effort needed to enhance workplace safety

  • The Straits Times (24 June 2016): Promote safe working practices on the ground
  • The Straits Times (24 June 2016): Communication, enforcement key to ensuring workplace safety
  • The Straits Times (4 June 2016): Multipronged approach needed to stem workplace deaths

Collective Effort Needed to Enhance Workplace Safety

 - The Straits Times, 27 July 2016 

  1. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) shares the concerns of Forum writers over the recent workplace fatalities ("Promote safe working practices on the ground" by Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi and "Communication, enforcement key to ensuring workplace safety" by Mr Lim Boon Khoon; both published last Friday, and "Multipronged approach needed to stem workplace deaths" by Mr Lim Ming Yen; June 4).
  2. We agree it is important to share information on workplace accidents promptly so that lessons can be learnt and measures taken to prevent similar accidents.
  3. A thorough investigation is required to establish how an accident occurred and its root causes. This takes time and is necessary so that correct lessons are drawn.
  4. Nonetheless, MOM has been working with the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council to release preliminary information on every fatality within seven days of occurrence through the WSH Alert Accident Notifications.
  5. A multipronged approach is indeed needed to improve WSH. The Workplace Safety and Health Act introduced in 2006 takes an outcome-based approach.
  6. It is impossible and, in fact, counterproductive for the authorities to prescribe safety measures for every work situation. Instead, the WSH Act places the responsibility of ensuring the safety and health of workers on those that create the risk in the workplace. Hence, it is an employer's primary responsibility to take reasonably practicable measures to protect their workers.
  7. The WSH Council has capability-building programmes to help employers fulfil this responsibility. For example, the bizSAFE programme, with over 24,500 members, is a five-step programme to help companies begin their journey to improve WSH.
  8. The CultureSAFE programme helps companies build and sustain a progressive and pervasive WSH culture. Companies can also sign up for the Safety Compliance Assistance Visit Plus to engage certified WSH professionals to identify safety lapses at their workplaces and recommend control measures.
  9. These efforts are complemented by an equal focus on safety training. All workers in the construction industry must attend and pass the Safety Orientation Course for Construction Industry. WSH coordinators and supervisors have to undergo rigorous training and be certified.
  10. We have also stepped up awareness efforts by distributing visual pictograms indicating the dos and don'ts of common work situations to reinforce the safety consciousness of workers.
  11. These capability-building and training initiatives are backed by a risk-based and calibrated enforcement regime. Over 3,000 inspections targeting high-risk sectors, focusing on specific work activities with high injury incidences, have been conducted this year. We have also introduced stiffer penalties to increase deterrence.
  12. Everyone has a role in preventing injuries. We call on the support of concerned stakeholders to work with us

Promote safe working practices on the ground
- The Straits Times, 24 June 20164

  1. Low wages may be one of the main factors behind workplace deaths and injuries, but adequate training, enforcement of safety regulations and proper treatment of workers are also relevant issues ("Low wages a factor in injuries, deaths at work" by Transient Workers Count Too; June 8).
  2. Singapore's heavy industry, particularly the construction sector, is dependent on low-cost foreign labour.
  3. As is the case in many aspects of business, this is motivated largely by a desire to reduce cost. Indeed, this accounts for the depressed wages.
  4. Companies also have an incentive to find savings by trimming other aspects of labour management, such as training.
  5. Many migrant workers are forced to pick up their trade on the job and receive informal briefings on safety procedures.
  6. While the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has committed itself to performing more workplace inspections to detect lapses in safety measures, contractors and on-site managers still remain the foremost line of enforcement.
  7. The extent of their efforts to promote and ensure safe working practices is questionable.
  8. After all, putting up banners with hackneyed slogans does not, in itself, inculcate a workplace culture that emphasises safety above speed and convenience.
  9. In view of these half-hearted efforts, it is unsurprising that workplace accidents remain more common than they should be.
  10. We must also consider how foreign workers are all too often dehumanised and regarded as mere assets by their employers.
  11. Mistreatment of labourers does not necessarily imply direct abuse. It can and does manifest in more insidious forms, such as poor living conditions, insufficient rest, malnutrition, social isolation and psychological stress, all of which are detrimental to work performance and safety.
  12. To enhance workplace safety, solutions need to be implemented on the ground.
  13. Examples include having mandatory training that follows a prescribed MOM syllabus for workers in high-risk areas, or introducing greater incentives and penalties based on greater scrutiny of worksite practices.
  14. Migrant workers have contributed greatly to the local economy, and it is high time they enjoyed the regulatory protection they deserve.

Communication, enforcement key to ensuring workplace safety

- The Straits Times, 24 June 2016

  1. Since stiffer penalties were implemented last month for workplace safety lapses, there have been more workplace deaths, bringing the total number of known workplace-related deaths this year to 35 ("Foreign worker dies at worksite; suspect arrested"; June 10). This leaves much room for improvement.
  2. First, communication could be a problem.
  3. Effective communication between workers and site managers may be difficult, considering that the workforce includes people of many nationalities.
  4. Is there any avenue for proper feedback to gauge workers' understanding of what transpired during safety briefings?
  5. What a worker does not know about working safely may not only harm but also kill him and hurt the business.
  6. Workers must be thoroughly and adequately trained in work-safety processes. The management owes its employees such training.
  7. And that training must come from site supervisors, in addition to mandatory safety courses conducted by training providers whose quality must be unquestionable.
  8. Second, the enforcement of safety practices is important.
  9. Simply deducting workers' pay for not wearing or using protective equipment is not enough.
  10. Mere exhortations by site managers to workers to comply with safety requirements do not absolve the site management of its legal obligations to protect workers.
  11. Finally, an indirect contribution to an increase in the number of accidents may be traced to the safety-auditing process.
  12. Auditors have been known to shorten the duration from the standard five days - three days of site auditing and two days of report writing - to two days, highlighting only the good practices and not the non-compliance issues.
  13. In the course of my work, I have also found that some audits are superficial and cursory in nature.
  14. The scope and depth of auditing leave much to be desired, and there is room for improvement.
Multipronged approach needed to stem workplace deaths

- The Straits Times, 4 June 2016

  1. The recent spate of workplace deaths in Singapore is certainly cause for concern ("Concern over rising workplace deaths"; May 25).
  2. In the context of today's business and socio-economic environments, manpower crunch, and time and cost pressures are often key factors that compel many companies - in particular, construction firms - to subject their workers to long working hours and mental stress.
  3. These unfavourable working conditions, in turn, tempt many workers and supervisors to sidestep safety procedures in order to complete their work faster.
  4. The corollary of the vicious circle of stress and overwork is worksite accidents and fatalities.
  5. A multipronged strategy is, hence, needed to ensure the safety of workers, as well as to create a conducive business environment for local companies.
  6. First, productivity and safety are complementary, and, together, they can create a multiplier effect for companies to do more with less.
  7. In this regard, the Government can play a pivotal role in bringing together various stakeholders - including companies, academia and experts from various industries - to explore ways and take concrete steps to boost productivity.
  8. Such collaborative trials and studies provide companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, with the gumption to embrace new technologies and processes, with the necessary financial support from the Government.
  9. Second, regulatory frameworks should be instituted to ensure all companies abide by safety rules and regulations when they tender for projects.
  10. Hence, safety components should be integral to every tender's scope of requirements to level the playing field among bidders. These companies can then factor in additional costs to safeguard workers' safety and health, without fear of losing out to their competitors.
  11. Third, outreach programmes and refresher training should be continually administered by the Workplace Safety and Health Council and industry associations to ensure that all stakeholders in companies - including senior management, supervisors and workers - are always kept up to date with the best safety practices in their respective fields.
  12. Together with the collective will and determination from various stakeholders, a comprehensive and effective multipronged approach will help stem the rising number of workplace deaths.