SINGAPORE: A forklift held together with make-shift wires and bales of scrap metal stacked unsafely were some of the lapses that led the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to issue a stop-work order to waste metal recycling firm Esun International on Monday (Apr 19).
The company president was caught by surprise when inspectors from MOM's occupational safety and health division, along with Senior Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad and a group of reporters, paid an unannounced visit to its facilities in Jurong on Monday afternoon.
The safety inspectors examined the company's vehicles and machinery, surveyed the factory environment, and spoke to the workers and the managers to get a sense of their working conditions.
At least one forklift was found to be poorly maintained - with rusty wires holding some vital parts together where there should have been springs.
The inspectors also found that there were no clear markings to manage traffic although reporters saw several heavy vehicles operating in the premises. Inside the factory, scrap metal was strewn in many areas and there were stacks of bales of shredded metal.
Speaking to reporters after the site inspection, Mr Zaqy said that inspectors spotted a few lapses: "We had work-from-height issues, we had stacking problems with some of the materials piled up ... so that could always risk falling on someone.
"We also had traffic management issues ... That's something that we have to take very seriously because if you're not managing traffic properly, especially in tight spaces like these, things can happen."
Over the past three years, Esun International has reported seven work-related accidents to MOM, ranging from cuts and abrasions to fractures of fingers and limbs, said a ministry spokesperson.
FOCUS ON SAFETY IN MANUFACTURING SECTOR
MOM said that this was the sixth stop-work order issued to a manufacturing firm this year. These orders generally last until the lapses spotted by the inspectors have been rectifiedand MOM conducts a follow-up inspection. On average, the orders are in force for five weeks.
In addition, 74 composition fines have been issued to firms in the sector this year.
"This underlines our efforts to ensure that we put more emphasis into safety and safeguards in the sector so that we can improve the safety of our workers," said Mr Zaqy.
He announced that MOM will be launching an operation to conduct 400 safety inspections in May and June in high-risk sectors, including construction, manufacturing, transport and marine sectors, to ensure that workplaces are safe, and in particular, that workers operating machinery are qualified and trained.
The operation will only be conducted from May to give employers some time to review their work processes and conduct risk assessments, he said.
"Even in these challenging times, safety must still be at the forefront and needs to be taken seriously by companies and their management," said Mr Zaqy.
"We must ensure our workers go home safely and are able to earn a living for their families."
Mr Zaqy said that MOM had "done a lot of work" to encourage safety in the construction sector and is now turning its attention to the manufacturing sector, which had six fatal accidents in 2020, up from four fatalities in 2019.
Across all sectors, the total number of workplace deaths in 2020 was 30.
MOM said that the manufacturing sector also has the highest number of non-fatal injuries - with 110 cases of major injuries and about 2,300 minor injuries suffered by workers last year. About 30 per cent of all injuries in the sector arose from machinery incidents, said Mr Zaqy.
"There were about 48 cases of amputations and loss of limbs (or) partial limbs, and this is I think too high, because each limb that's lost is a rice bowl being impacted," he said.
Inspections will focus on the training of workers, particularly on new workers or those returning to work following work stoppages, Mr Zaqy added.
The Workplace Safety and Health Council has put out new materials for companies to provide their employees with training and awareness on operating machinery safely.
They have also launched the yearly Safe Hands Campaign to raise awareness of hand and finger injuries in the manufacturing sector, with an increased focus on preventing machinery incidents, said MOM.