Channel NewsAsia

Local organisations developing contingency plans in case of haze

Experts have warned that an El Nino season in the region, characterised by dry weather and high temperatures, could prolong the haze this year. Some businesses Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they have specific contingency plans to tide them through.

SINGAPORE: Experts have warned that an El Nino season in the region, characterised by dry weather and high temperatures, could prolong the haze this year.

Some businesses Channel NewsAsia spoke with, however, said they have yet to implement specific contingency plans to tide them through. But others said it makes good sense to have such plans in place -- both for staff welfare, and to also minimise work disruptions.

The haze has frustrated the region for decades. But last year's episode -- during which the PSI reached more than 400 at its peak -- caught most in Singapore off-guard.

The 2013 haze affected many businesses especially retailers and food & beverage outlets badly -- with some saying they lost as much as half of their business, as many people chose to stay indoors. Some reports also suggested that the Singapore economy could have lost as much as S$1 billion a week.

One year on, public and private entities Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they have learnt important lessons.

The coordinating chairman of the PAP town councils Dr Teo Ho Pin, said: "After the haze in June last year, the PAP town councils came together and we have discussed this to see what are the ways in which we should respond with respect to different levels of PSI in our working environment.

"We also consulted the MOM and their safety guidelines. That's the reason why we have come up with the working protocol with respect to different levels of haze PSI."

Dr Teo said at a PSI of between 100 and 200, N95 masks will be issued to workers at all the 15 PAP-run town councils. Cleaning the estate would consist of quick sweeps, and outdoor work will be reduced.

Beyond a PSI of 200, non-essential work such as block washing will be stopped. And above 300, only essential services such as lift rescue and refuse removal will be undertaken.

Dr Teo said aspects of essential and emergency services may need to be further tweaked if the haze goes on for a prolonged period.

Others will turn to established contingency plans.

In 2013, technology company Bosch offered its 750 employees in Singapore the chance to work at home during the haze. About 150 employees took up the option when the PSI reached "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels.

This was achieved through a tool called the Bosch Communicator -- a voice and messaging system that is installed on all laptops.

It forwards calls from office phones to laptops so that employees remain contactable, regardless of where they are.

Bosch said the tool has been available to employees in Singapore for more than three years.

The company also maintains a stock of masks, and disseminates information through its notice boards at the lobby to facilitate internal communication.

Angeline Kwek, human resources manager at Robert Bosch Southeast Asia, said: "It makes sense because once the basics -- which is the health and safety of the employees is taken care of -- they know what to do in times of emergency.

"That would indirectly ensure business continuity. When they know what they need to do, they will be able to do their work just like any other day."

Bosch said the recent initiative to distribute N95 masks to all Singapore households prompted it to also take action by checking and stocking masks for its employees. 

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