SINGAPORE: Workplace fatalities last year fell to the lowest since 2004, but the rate of injuries climbed to a five-year high, the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) 2019 report released on Wednesday (Mar 11) showed.
There were 39 fatalities last year, or 1.1 deaths for every 100,000 workers, a dip from 41 fatalities and a rate of 1.2 in 2018.
Collapse or failure of structure and equipment, vehicular-related incidents and falls from height dominated the top three causes of fatal injuries, with seven cases in each category.
The construction industry recorded the highest number of deaths (13 cases), followed by the transportation and storage industry (eight cases).
MANUFACTURING HAD MOST MAJOR INJURIES
The number of major injuries in the workplace totalled 629 in 2019, an increase of 33 cases from 2018. Last year’s rate hit 18.1 per 100,000 workers, the highest since 2014 when the rate was 20 per 100,000 workers.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) defines major injuries as those which result in a loss of a body part, some body function or requiring at least 20 days of medical leave.
The top causes of major injuries are slips, trips and falls - particularly among construction workers (25 cases), drivers (23 cases) and cleaners (19 cases) - and machinery-related incidents.
The manufacturing industry had the highest number of workplace major injuries with 137 cases followed by the construction, transportation and storage industries with 121 and 57 workplace major injuries respectively, the report said.
These industries collectively accounted for 50 per cent, or 315 cases, of all workplace major injuries in 2019.
MINOR INJURIES ROSE
The number of workplace minor injuries rose from 12,173 cases, or a rate of 35.5 per 100,000 workers in 2018, to 13,111 cases, or a rate of 37.7, in 2019. Last year’s rate was the highest since 2014.
MOM defines minor injuries as those which are non-severe where an employee is given more than three days of medical leave or hospitalised for at least 24 hours.
The main causes of minor injuries are slips, trips and falls, machinery-related incidents and being struck by moving objects.
The manufacturing industry had the highest number of minor injury cases at 2,653 in 2019, followed by the construction, accommodation and food services industries with 1,981 and 1,265 cases respectively, the report said.
These industries together accounted for 45 per cent, or 5,899 cases, of all workplace minor injuries last year.
The number of dangerous occurrences - defined as incidents with the highest potential for multiple fatalities - fell slightly from 23 cases in 2018 to 21 in 2019, the lowest documented since 2011.
Among the 21 cases, 13 were due to a collapse or failure of structure and equipment, eight of which were crane-related. The remaining eight cases were because of fire and explosions.
BOOSTING CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY SAFETY STANDARDS
The construction industry remained the top contributor of workplace fatalities at 13 cases last year.
MOM noted that the fatal injury rate of construction workers fell by nearly half after they accrue three or more years of experience.
“It suggests to us that we need to tell all the contractors: ‘Please retain your experienced workers,'” an MOM spokesperson said at a media briefing on Tuesday ahead of the release of the report. “They are more expensive, but they know the worksite better, they are better at anticipating, spotting, identifying risks and better at averting accidents."
If contractors have to bring in new workers - which is inevitable given that construction output is expected to ramp up in the next few years - companies have to “up their level of safety awareness”, he said.
To boost safety standards among construction players, MOM will work with training providers to include an experiential component to the mandatory construction safety orientation training course by 2022. Currently, the course is “largely classroom-based”, the spokesperson said.
VIGILANCE NEEDED IN TRANSPORTATION & STORAGE
While the number of deaths in the manufacturing industry remained at four, the number of major injuries spiked from 123 to 137 in 2019, the highest among all industries.
MOM also said in a press release that greater vigilance is necessary among transportation and storage firms, as fatalities doubled to eight cases while major injuries rose from 49 to 57 cases.
MAJOR INJURIES RISING IN MEDIUM-RISK INDUSTRIES
MOM said that the number of major injuries has also crept up in these low to medium-risk industries. For example, in the accommodation and food services industry, there were 54 cases in 2019, up from 37 in 2018. Slips, trips and falls were the primary cause.
Given the rise, the ministry said it will focus on inspecting the industries where major injuries have grown. Inspectors previously focused on higher-risk industries such as construction, manufacturing, marine, and transportation and storage.
Cleaners will have to undergo compulsory workplace safety training from 2022, the ministry pointed out, which should reduce the number of accidents arising from slips and falls.
In 2019, the ministry conducted 17,000 inspections and uncovered more than 8,900 contraventions, it said.
MOM issued 58 stop-work orders that had an average duration of six weeks, and collected S$1.4 million worth of fines from close to 1,000 companies.
Last November, the ministry announced it was ramping up checks on worksites after a spate of fatal accidents. It began conducting 400 surprise inspections last December.
The series of inspections, which ended in mid-February this year, uncovered 1023 contraventions, including unguarded openings and blocked passageways. Nine stop-work orders with an average duration of four weeks were issued; MOM collect a total of S$173,000 worth of fines from 86 companies.
At the same time, the number of employers fined for failing to report a work-related injury jumped, from 39 in 2018 to 168 in 2019. Fines are fixed at S$1,000 for the first offence.
MOM said most employers did not report the case as they were either disputing whether the injury was work-related, or they were not informed of the accident.
With amendments to the Work Injury Compensation Act taking effect in September this year, the ministry said it believes that workplace safety standards will improve.
For one, MOM will share the employers’ claims history to approved insurers to encourage companies to improve their safety records.
Using the data now readily available, insurers may charge employers with good safety records with lower premiums and those with poor safety records with higher ones.
The ministry previously announced that it aims to reduce the country’s fatality rate to below 1.0 and the major injury rate to less than 12.0 by 2028.