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MOM reviewing penalties, legislative framework for workplace safety

The Ministry of Manpower is undertaking a further review of its regulatory penalties and the legislative framework for Workplace Safety and Health infringements.

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is undertaking a further review of its regulatory penalties and the legislative framework for Workplace Safety and Health infringements.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said this is to ensure that the government is able to send a stronger deterrent message.

He was speaking at the launch of this year's Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Campaign on Wednesday morning.

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, said Singapore is at an inflection point.

While good results have been achieved in bringing down the overall workplace fatality rate from 4.0 per 100,000 employees in 2005 to 2.1 last year, Mr Tharman said the rate of improvement has slowed and Singapore is at risk of plateauing or even slipping back.

He noted that the workplace safety and health performance in the first three months of 2014 is of grave concern. There were 19 workplace fatalities in the first quarter, five more compared to the same period last year.

Twelve of the 19 lives were lost in the construction sector.

The fatality rate in the construction sector has increased from 5.5 in 2011, to 5.9 in 2012, and then to 7.0 last year.

Mr Tharman said: "The situation is unacceptable, and we cannot let it continue. While construction firms face genuine operating challenges, such as worker shortages in some areas and pressure to complete projects on time, the safety and health of workers must be the foremost priority for everyone.

"With construction demand expected to remain strong, there is an especially pressing need to arrest this rise in worksite fatalities, and achieve clear and lasting improvement in the sector's WSH performance."

Thus, a shift in thinking and approach is needed -- especially if Singapore is to reach its target of less than 1.8 fatalities per 100,000 employees by 2018, added Mr Tharman.

One way is to institute workplace safety and health risk management further upstream. This means developers in Singapore will be required to put more effort into ensuring their designs are safe.

He also announced that the government has decided to mandate the Design for Safety programme for all developers, in a bid to ensure better workplace safety and health risk management upstream.

Currently, adoption of the programme -- which aims to reduce safety and health risks through good design -- is on a voluntary basis.

Mr Tharman said: "Presently, developers and designers tend to leave the identification of WSH risks in building construction and maintenance to the builders and building operators.

"Performing RM (risk management) upstream would mean they have to make a conscious effort to collaborate with relevant experts to identify WSH risks in their designs and incorporate the necessary risk control solutions into them upfront.

"Builders and facility operators will then have significantly fewer risks to manage downstream."

Lee Tzu Yang, chairman of the WSH Council, said: "It's not only for safety -- if you do planning upfront, if you do planning for execution, you basically reduce the variation in the outcome from your desired outcome. I think that's not only good for safety, that's also good for quality, for timeliness, for cost control.

"I'm sure the developers, once this process is in place, will ride on it to do a lot better planning upfront. It may mean, however, that there needs to be more time upfront in order to prepare the bids."

Based on existing guidelines, developers could be expected to institute a design for safety review process with stakeholders from the start. This means thinking through risk factors in construction and maintenance of the building based on the designs.

Sufficient time and resources should also be allocated and take into account the risks highlighted in the design for safety process. Those at the construction and maintenance stage should also understand and factor the risk into their work.

Dr Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association Limited, said: "When we tender, we get the job, we will do it according to what's already been designed.

"We might have a better idea or constructive type of suggestions for the design. We could say, could you tweak this part, we could build in this way -- it's much easier, maybe cheaper, faster, more productive, and it's safer."

Some developers have also welcomed the move. City Developments Limited (CDL) said it has adopted similar Design for Safety guidelines more than 10 years ago.

Allen Ang, head of innovation & green building at CDL, said: "A balance must be struck between design of a building and safety. Building a block that is curved is challenging, even though it is nice looking and iconic.

"However, we can still build a straight building, a straight block, with interesting facade, fitted with green walls, vertical gardens... things that can be made in the factory, delivered to the site and hoisted up. This is safer than having more workers having to climb onto the scaffold to lay bricks one by one to construct the wall."

Mr Tan Seng Chai, Chairman of the CapitaLand Sustainability Steering Committee, said: "Greater awareness towards safety practices is exercised among stakeholders, including contractors and construction workers, and risks (if any) are identified and designed out or mitigated in the early phases of a project."

He added that CapitaLand has incorporated Design for Safety requirements in its Green Buildings Guidelines for Singapore projects.

An inter-agency workgroup led by MOM and the Building and Construction Authority will be formed to work out implementation details of the mandatory framework for Design for Safety, in consultation with the industry.

Mr Tharman added that the regulatory requirements and time frame for implementation will be announced by the end of this year.

Equal emphasis also has to be placed on workplace health, said Mr Tharman.

A study by the WSH institute shows work-related ill health costs about $9 billion in 2011.

Mr Tharman said: "Together, we have to reinvigorate our efforts to strengthen WSH, and in particular to arrest and reverse the deteriorating WSH performance in the construction sector.

"At the same time, we must think ahead and prepare ourselves for the increasing salience of workplace health and well-being as our workforce gets older.

"And finally, we have to impress on everyone, especially employers, that the impact of decisions made at the workplace extends well beyond the workplace, into our lives and those of our loved ones. How we work is how we all live."

Such an approach to workplace safety and health will be even more important as Singapore's population ages.

MOM, the Health Promotion Board and the WSH Council have developed a guide to help employers adopt the total WSH approach.

A new Tripartite Oversight Committee chaired by Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower, Dr Amy Khor, has also been formed to drive the initiative.

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