- POSTED: 29 Sep 2013 04:42
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The Singapore Armed Forces has enforced a compulsory temperature-taking regime for soldiers. Introduced from June 2012, the measure's aimed at stemming heat injuries, by keeping those with body temperatures above 37.5 degrees celsius out of training.
SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces has enforced a compulsory temperature-taking regime for soldiers.
Introduced from June 2012, the measure's aimed at stemming heat injuries, by keeping those with body temperatures above 37.5 degrees celsius out of training. It added to a suite of measures to keep soldiers fighting-fit.
"Safety" was formally added to military's list of core values in April 2013.
Singapore's citizen-soldiers often push their limits during National Service -- when the mercury rises, dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke may result.
To prevent such heat injuries, a safety regime requires troopers' body temperatures to be measured and recorded before they tackle high-intensity activities like fitness tests or obstacle courses.
Additionally, temperatures are also taken at the start of the day and before it ends.
The Defence Ministry said the precaution flags early warnings of possibly-unwell soldiers before any strenuous training. It added that overall, heat injuries have seen a downward trend, comparing 2013 with the year before.
Observers like Master Warrant Officer (NS) Frederick Seah, a member of the Army Safety Review Board, said the precaution gives the military's safety regime another welcome boost.
He said: "An individual soldier who may be unwell, may then say 'no, I'm fine, lets push on with it.' But with the temperature taken from a thermometer, it says everything. So if he's out for that moment, he's out for that moment. So we will bring down the level of injury."
National Environment Agency data showed Singapore's average yearly temperature rising 0.25 degrees celsius per decade since the 1940s. The data covers the years from 1948 to 2008.
The change is in tandem with the increase in temperature recorded in many places around the world -- the phenomenon of global warming.
Urbanisation is also a factor contributing to warmer climate in Singapore, as urban built-up areas absorb more heat during the day than vegetated rural places. It means soldiers have been training in warmer conditions over the years.
They are constantly instructed to hydrate themselves by drinking water, and guidelines for commanders inform them what to do when the heat is on. The guidelines are based on the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature concept -- a composite measure of heat, humidity and wind chill.
At the bottom, "Code Green" indicates temperatures below 30.9 degrees celsius, where heat injury risk is low, but still possible. Troops work 45 minutes at a stretch, followed by 15 minutes rest.
This work-rest cycle changes as temperatures rise -- at "Code Yellow", between 31 and 31.9 degrees celsius, heat injury risk is moderate. Troops work 30 minutes at a stretch, followed by 15 minutes rest.
At "Code Red", between 32 and 32.9 degrees celsius, heat injury risk is high. Troops work 30 minutes at a stretch, followed by 30 minutes rest.
At the highest "Code Black" category, above 33 degrees celsius, heat injury risk is very high. Troops work 15 minutes at a stretch, followed by 30 minutes rest.
Commanders can also opt to delay or postpone training under "Code Red" and "Code Black" conditions. Furthermore, soldiers are instructed to strip down, or loosen, their gear to reduce heat stress when it gets too hot.
Dr Sanjay Patel from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, which serves more than five military camps in northern Singapore, said many soldiers who sustained heat injuries do not require hospital admission because of the military's ability to deal with the cases within camps.
He said the common-sense approach the Singapore Armed Forces takes in mitigating heat injuries is a sound strategy for reducing the risks involved when troops train under warm conditions.
Dr Sanjay said: "If they've got a number of different methods to reduce heat stress, it's likely to be effective. Why? Because any increment, increase in heat, is likely to cause those susceptible to heat stress more damage. And therefore if we reduce that factor, mitigate the risks, there's going to be less exposure to heat illness."
Observers noted that the safety measures should not dilute training realism.
Colonel(NS) Mohamed Ismail, chairman of the National Service Advisory Panel for Basic Military Training, said: "What we are doing does not mean that we are creating 'soft' soldiers. No, was never meant to be. But on the other hand, we take a very conscious effort to understand the limits of people, and we can always achieve realism in many ways of either simulators or in the prolonged activity exercises."
The military has also put in place a system of colour-coded wristbands to mark out soldiers who may need more care and attention. Those who wear the wristbands are individuals who are asthmatic, or may have suffered heat injuries in the past.
The system was introduced in March 2010.
The Defence Ministry said a soldier who just returned from medical leave will don a yellow wrist band. The yellow wrist band is used throughout the Army, with Basic Military Training using an expanded colour system as recruits are newly-initiated into military training.
Soldiers who suffered heat injuries in the past will wear red wrist bands and those with a history of asthma will wear blue wrist bands.