Response to Adjournment Motion on "Keeping Workers and Workplaces Safe" by MP Melvin Yong
Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Parliament
I thank the Member for his suggestions and agree that we should do what is RIGHT.
2 The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is extremely concerned about the recent spate of workplace fatalities.
• We saw 31 fatalities since the start of 2022, compared to 37 for the whole of 2021 and 39 in 2019 pre-COVID.
3 Singapore has reached a stage of development where we can and should be held to higher WSH standards.
• We made good progress to reduce workplace fatal injury rate from 2.1 per 100,000 workers in 2012 to 1.1 per 100,000 workers last year.
• Our goal remains to reduce workplace fatalities to less than 1 per 100,000 workers by 2028 on a sustainable basis and join just four countries that have achieved this.
• We’ve set high workplace safety standards for Singapore because we want all our workers to return home safely to their loved ones.
• This is not just an aspiration, but a shared mission with our tripartite partners and industry stakeholders
4 Since the higher fatality trend surfaced in April this year, MOM has ramped up inspections, imposed stiffer penalties and conducted a Safety Time Out.
• In my response, I will share further measures to strengthen companies’ WSH ownership; step up inspections and enforcement; and raise awareness and promote WSH, so that more companies will want and be equipped to do well by WSH.
Strengthening top management’s commitment to improve WSH
5 The inculcation of a safety culture, which underpins safe workplaces, must start with the top management.
• Managements set the culture and allocate the resources within their organisations, which ultimately shape WSH practices on the ground.
6 To strengthen management commitment to WSH, we will be gazetting the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) for Company Directors’ WSH Duties later this year.
• The law already places WSH responsibilities on company leadership.
• With the ACOP, corporate leaders and Boards of Directors will be guided on their WSH responsibilities, including conducting ground engagements and communicating the need to prioritise WSH.
• The Member asked about the legislative “teeth” of ACOP.
• In the event of a WSH Act offence, the Courts will consider the ACOP when assessing the culpability of company leaders and its Board.
• They can and will be prosecuted if found to be culpable for safety lapses.
• MOM has completed the first round of industry consultation and will commence public consultation this month.
• We are putting Managements and Boards on notice, that the ACOP is coming.
7 To further strengthen management commitment, MOM will harmonise the criteria for disqualifying contractors with poor workplace safety practices from public sector’s construction tenders. We are also reviewing the Demerit Point System to ensure errant contractors are sufficiently penalised. This includes debarring them from employing foreign employees for a period of time.
8 To provide transparency on companies’ safety records, CheckSafe on MOM’s website allows anyone, particularly developers and service buyers, to check safety track records before engaging contractors or vendors.
Strengthening workplace safety practices through inspections and engagements
9 Inspections and enforcement form a key part of MOM’s efforts to uphold WSH. We conduct targeted inspections of companies in higher risk sectors such as construction, manufacturing, and transport and storage.
• Those with poor WSH performance are inspected more frequently.
10 Our analysis of recent fatal accidents showed that many companies did not conduct their risk assessments or follow safe work procedures.
• This is disturbing – simple and totally avoidable mistakes, that resulted in a loss of life.
• I urge companies and workers to take these safety requirements seriously.
• Our efforts go beyond enforcement. Where required, our inspectors spend time to advise companies on the WSH rectifications needed, so that they can learn and sustain improvements.
11 I thank the member for his kind offer to do more in support, and I look forward to partnering NTUC to supplement MOM’s inspection and engagement efforts.
Reporting of unsafe workplace practices, protecting whistle blowers and expanding coverage of WSH personnel
12 It is heartening to hear union leaders’ efforts to empower rail workers to surface WSH feedback.
• I encourage union leaders to rally company management to do more walkabouts, and join them too, in this effort to strengthen WSH commitment.
13 Today, the MOM hotline and e-Feedback are easily accessible to everyone.
• Information on these channels is prominently displayed on signboards at construction worksites.
• To raise awareness among migrant workers, MOM has also shared these channels via WSH Alerts on the FWMOMCare app and through our partners.
On Member’s OneService app suggestion, MOM is already exploring adding the MOM e-Feedback function into another Whole-Of-Government app. We will let you know once it is ready.
• Anyone, including members of the public, who witnesses safety lapses or poor safety practices should not be afraid to inform their management or report them to MOM.
• MOM takes every report seriously. Out of 2,300 reports received in the past 12 months, around 62% of the follow-up inspections resulted in enforcement actions taken.
14 I wish to assure anyone who comes forward that there are existing safeguards to protect them.
• Their identities are kept confidential. Inspectors maintain this confidentiality strictly when they follow up with the companies.
• Under the WSH Act, employers cannot dismiss or threaten to dismiss workers who have reported WSH contraventions.
• MOM will not hesitate to take enforcement actions against those that do.
15 The Member spoke about requiring a WSH representative in every company beyond the higher risk companies.
• MOM is reviewing the coverage of the existing WSH personnel requirement and will update the industry once we complete our review.
• For workplaces not already covered, we strongly encourage companies to identify employees or perhaps, the NTUC can recommend union leaders to take on these tasks.
Building WSH capability for management and key stakeholders
16 I thank the Member for his suggestions to beef up WSH training for management and supervisors.
• Today, they are required to attend training on risk management as part of the bizSAFE programme.
• The WSH Council is already working with NTUC to develop micro-learning modules for worker refresher training.
• We plan to expand this to include relevant programmes for supervisors and management, to help them lead their company’s safety culture more effectively.
17 The Member spoke about workplace fatigue. I agree that it can be a contributory factor of workplace accidents.
• The Member would be aware that there are existing protections under the Employment Act on the maximum hours that employees can work per day and per week, as well as the maximum number of overtime hours per month.
• I encourage the Unions and workers to keep MOM informed if there are contraventions to the Employment Act.
Leveraging technology to enhance WSH
18 I agree with the Member that WSH technology is a key enabler to detect and prevent workplace accidents. We are heartened that more companies are adopting WSH technology.
19 Members will be pleased to note that WSH technology solutions are incorporated in the Industry Digital Plans (IDPs) developed by Infocomm Media Development Authority and sector lead agencies.
• These are available to firms, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
• SMEs can tap on the Productivity Solutions Grant to adopt pre-approved solutions with up to 70% funding support for qualifying costs, such as the e-Permit-to-Work which allows full visibility of high-risk work activities.
• To drive greater adoption, MOM will continue to work with the Government Procurement Entities to include suitable WSH technology into public sector tender specifications.
Conclusion: Staying ahead of WSH challenges
20 Mr Speaker, we have made good progress on WSH from a decade ago.
21 The recent spate of accidents has been a setback, but I urge all Members in this House, company leaders, board of directors, industry associations, union leaders and workers to continue to play our part.
• We have made significant progress, and we must take important lessons from this episode to build a safety culture that will endure for years to come.