SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will set up an Inspector-General's Office to ensure that "command emphasis on safety" is applied and enforced across all SAF units, said the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) on Thursday (Jan 31).
The office will support the Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Melvyn Ong and have full authority to scrutinise and enforce safety processes and practices at all levels of the SAF.
While there is currently an inspectorate within SAF’s individual services, the office will cover all branches of the military and report directly to LG Ong.
LG Ong held a command call at Pasir Laba Camp earlier Thursday, where he met 750 active and operationally ready National Service commanders and shared plans to make training safer for SAF servicemen.
Speaking to media after the command call, Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Goh Si Hou said that the army will expand the number of safety inspection teams and full-time safety officers to conduct checks and audits on units' safety systems.
These safety officers will observe training sessions, make sure the systems are robust and also provide feedback to the commander of the unit.
This was part of the army's effort to strengthen safety management structures on the ground, MG Goh said.
SAFETY TIME-OUT TO TAPER OFF
MG Goh also said that the safety time-out that was implemented across the army in the wake of actor Aloysius Pang’s death will be lifted progressively after Feb 7.
All army units will be allowed to resume basic types of training such as physical fitness training, small arms live-firing, Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and IPPT Preparatory Training (IPT) for NSmen from Feb 7.
National servicemen who were unable to book their IPPT during the current safety timeout will not be penalised and will be given additional time.
“We’ve taken a more structured, and more inclusive approach to the safety timeout,” MG Goh told reporters.
“Besides having our units conduct safety reviews, we’ve also actively involved all the soldiers so they can participate, give their feedback, as well as raise suggestions to enhance safety on the ground,” he said.
The safety timeout for other training activities will be lifted “as and when” the reviews are completed, added MG Goh.
Over the next few months, the army will also look to prioritise training activities across units, redesign training and re-scope the scale of exercises, said MG Goh.
This will see “selective” confidence courses removed from command schools as well as the redesign of Exercise Wallaby this year, among other things.
Corporal First Class (NS) Pang, an armament technician with the 268th Battalion, had been seriously injured while conducting repair work on a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer.
The 28-year-old had been participating in Exercise Thunder Warrior, a live-firing exercise, in New Zealand when the accident happened.
Pang died on Jan 23 after undergoing a number of operations to treat his injuries.
“Safety is a command responsibility. Commanders answer for the training and safety of their men. To do so, commanders have to be fully committed and personally and intimately involved in their unit’s training, operations, and safety,” said LG Ong, as cited in the press release.
“The reduction in training tempo will allow us commanders to take stock, re-orientate, and give full attention to this,” he added.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a tweet that LG Ong sent the "clear and unequivocal message" to the commanders that units can only train if there is "zero tolerance against every unsafe practice".
MINDEF confirmed on Wednesday that a Committee of Inquiry (COI) was convened on Jan 25 to investigate Pang's death, with a judge from the State Court as its chairman.
Other members of the COI panel include a consultant medical specialist, a member of the External Review Panel on SAF Safety, a member of the Workplace Safety and Health Council and a senior-ranked national serviceman.
None of the COI members work within MINDEF or are SAF regulars, the ministry said.
The incident in New Zealand is the fourth time in 18 months that an SAF soldier has died while training.
Dr Ng is set to deliver a ministerial statement at the next parliamentary sitting in February to address the deaths.
The command call was also attended by Chief of Air Force MG Mervyn Tan, Chief of Navy Rear-Admiral Lew Chuen Hong and all senior commanders of the SAF.
Initiated by LG Ong, the command call served to provide guidance to SAF commanders, as well as give them a platform to discuss safety issues and the reduction of the training tempo.
“The army recognises that we can do better, we want to do better and we’re determined to make sure we give every soldier the confidence to be able to train effectively and train safe,” said MG Goh.