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Improve workplace safety at smaller construction firms and projects to prevent deaths: Manpower Minister

SINGAPORE: Smaller construction firms and projects need to improve workplace safety standards, amid a “worrying spike" in workplace fatalities, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng on Thursday (Jun 23).

Speaking at the launch of a workplace safety and health (WSH) campaign by the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL), Dr Tan said that there have been 27 workplace deaths in 2022 so far. 

“This is very troubling because it is close to double that of the same period in 2019,” he said. 

“This is of great concern. Every life lost to a workplace accident is one life too many.”

Among the 27 deaths, 10 were in construction. And of the 10, six were from smaller construction firms or projects.

The latest death occurred on Wednesday, after a migrant worker was crushed between parts of a mobile crane.

“My exhortation to everyone is that we must not leave out such firms and must work hard to engage them to improve their WSH standards too,” said Dr Tan.

“We must make sure we do everything we can to prevent the loss of lives and make sure that our workers can return home safely to their loved ones.”

But he also noted that the safety standards in the construction industry has improved in the past decade.

The fatality rate in construction has dropped from 5.9 in 2012, to 3.3 in 2021. 

“This translates to about 70 lives saved over the 10 years, compared to if the situation remained unchanged,” he said.

He added: “In the last five years, there have been less than 15 fatalities and over 100 major injuries each year in the construction industry. But we should not accept this as par for the course. 

“We must constantly do better, and the Ministry will continue to support you and work with you on this journey of continuous improvement, because lives are at stake here.”

REVIEW, STRONGER ENFORCEMENT

He said that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has taken stronger enforcement actions and introduced stiffer penalties against errant employers. 

It will also look at disqualifying contractors with poor work practices.

“To lift industry safety standards and strengthen WSH ownership, we will look at upstream measures such as having a harmonised disqualification criteria for the public sector’s construction tenders, to disqualify contractors with poor work practices,” he said.

MOM will also review the current demerit points system for breaches under the WSH Act or Regulations, he added.

“This means that safer construction companies will have better business opportunities. The unsafe firms will be disqualified from competing with you for government contracts, or will have a tougher time getting foreign manpower because they have more demerit points,” said the minister.

MOM is also reviewing the coverage of WSH personnel such as WSH auditors, officers and coordinators to improve the level of oversight for workplace safety. This is the first review in more than a decade.

“Through the review, we hope that more contractors can also benefit from the assistance of trained and competent WSH personnel,” said Dr Tan.

Dr Tan called on firms and employers to innovate and use technology to further improve safety.

Contractors should consider using technology which can enable them to monitor the condition and practices at workplaces more closely, such as installing surveillance cameras at “strategic, high-risk locations”.

“We are therefore considering requiring CCTVs or other means of surveillance to be installed on-site in the future. We will work with SCAL on the implementation details,” he said.

Source: CNA/hm(aj)

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