SINGAPORE: Ten people have died in workplace accidents in Singapore in the last three-and-a-half weeks, after three workers who suffered burns in a fire at an industrial building in Tuas succumbed to their injuries on Thursday (Feb 25).
Speaking at the scene of the Tuas incident on Thursday, National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong raised concerns about the recent spate of workplace accidents and called on the authorities to address potential safety gaps.
He highlighted factors that may have contributed to gaps in workplace safety, adding that the recent fatalities are being investigated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
The Labour Member of Parliament said he had highlighted concerns in December about companies that were rushing to complete work that had been backlogged since the "circuit breaker" period, potentially neglecting safety measures.
“There are also concerns about manpower adequacy for certain high-risk tasks due to safe management measures - for example, some work that is typically done by five workers may now be performed by fewer workers due to split-team arrangements," said Mr Yong on Thursday.
“What we are doing now is to look at each of the cases (and) work very closely with the Ministry of Manpower. Once we are able to identify what the gaps are, that's where we will have to sit together and find ways to address those gaps.
"If need be, we will have to impose measures to make sure that these accidents do not happen again,” he added.
Touching on the Tuas explosion, Mr Yong said that efforts are under way to reach out to the affected workers and their families.
Ten workers suffered burns after an explosion at an industrial building in Tuas on Wednesday. Three of them have since succumbed to their injuries, while another five are in a critical condition. Two workers have been discharged.
Preliminary investigations have found that the accident at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 was caused by "a combustible dust explosion", said Commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Silas Sng on Thursday.
“We are all very saddened," said Mr Yong, adding that the Migrant Workers' Centre and Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union (BATU) are working closely with the employers to reach out to the affected workers.
“For the three workers who have passed on, we are currently reaching out to their families to see what support they need, and what assistance we can provide,” he said.
“For burn injuries, they typically take a longer period to recover. But we’ll do all we can to support the injured workers as they focus on recovery,” he added.
SAFETY INSPECTION OPERATION EXTENDED
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, MOM had said that its ongoing operation targeting high-risk industries will be extended until the middle of March following “a spate of fatal accidents in February”.
“MOM will be extending the operation to cover an additional 300 inspections up till mid-March 2021, with a greater focus on tackling the common infringements found of work-at-heights risk and safe use of machinery.”
A total of 400 inspections were conducted between mid-December and mid-February as part of Operation Robin, which was launched following a series of workplace accidents in November and December last year.
“The operation uncovered 486 contraventions and issued 7 Stop-Work Orders,” MOM said. “Top offences include unguarded openings and open sides that present fall risks, and unsafe machinery practices.”
On Thursday, however, Mr Yong said that structural changes are key to improving workplace safety in the long term.
“There's only so many inspections that we can do. I think what's important, and I've repeated many times, and I'll continue to call for it, is that every organisation should have a mandatory and dedicated WSH representative to focus on workplace safety, workplace health in each of the organisations,” he said.
“I hope that we can do something about that, because today only very selected sectors have that as a requirement.”
On Monday, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad had called the number of fatal accidents for the month - then at seven - "extremely alarming", compared to 30 deaths for the whole of last year.
In a Facebook post, Mr Zaqy urged employers and workers to take a step back to reassess their workplaces and safety procedures.
"These incidents could have been prevented with adequate risk assessment of the workplace, and proper safety procedures in place. In particular, there were two cases where both deceased operated a boom lift and a forklift, even though they were untrained and unauthorised," he said.
"Contractors using such heavy machinery must ensure that only trained and authorised personnel are allowed to operate them. Keys to these machines should not be left unattended within the machines."
The seven accidents in February involved three workers who fell from height, three who were caught between objects, and one who was involved in a work-related traffic accident, said the WSH Council in a separate Facebook post.