SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Transport is “undertaking a review” of the measures for using lorries to ferry workers to improve safety, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday (May 10), Dr Khor said: “Internationally, practices are varied. Countries such as Canada, Thailand, and the United States of America allow for passengers to be ferried in the rear deck of goods vehicles travelling on roads, albeit with safety precautions and some restrictions.
“From a road safety perspective, it would be ideal for lorries not to carry any passengers in their rear decks. But there are very significant practical and operational issues – on top of just cost considerations – which is probably why internationally, it is not an uncommon practice.”
Adding that MOT has been monitoring the situation and refining the measures since the last review, Dr Khor noted that in 2015, the ministry introduced a requirement for foreign workers who hold a driving licence to pass the Class 3 driving test here in order to drive a Class 3 vehicle on Singapore's roads.
“And we are currently undertaking a review of the measures with the view looking at how we can enhance these measures further in order to improve safety for workers. We will need some time to engage the various stakeholders and we will take into account all the suggestions.”
This comes after two migrant workers died and another 15 were injured in April, following a collision between a lorry and stationary tipper truck on the Pan Island Expressway. The lorry driver has been arrested for careless driving causing death, noted Dr Khor.
Another accident later that week saw 10 workers injured after a lorry overturned along Upper Bukit Timah Road.
In 2008, a workgroup from the Ministry of Manpower and Land Transport Authority conducted a “thorough” review of the safety of workers being transported on lorries, said Dr Khor.
“At that time, companies, especially small and medium enterprises in the construction industry, had strongly urged the Government to allow them to continue ferrying their workers in lorries. The industry associations also provided strong feedback that switching to dedicated bus transport would lead to significantly higher business costs,” she said.
“Other practical challenges were also highlighted. For instance, while lorries can have dual use for transporting workers and equipment, buses cannot, and this will result in significant productivity loss."
She added: "Other proposals such as using vans with smaller capacities or lowering the cap on deck capacity were also considered, but there were concerns about driver fatigue, and therefore safety, as more trips would have to be made to ferry workers from one site to another.”
The workgroup also found that retrofitting seat belts in the rear decks of lorries could result in other safety risks because commercially available lorries are not designed for seat belts to be installed in the rear deck, and the floorboards in the rear deck might not be sufficiently strong to keep the seat belts anchored in the event of an accident, said Dr Khor.
From the workgroup’s findings, the Government implemented enhanced safety measures for lorries ferrying passengers in 2009 and 2010, including fitting higher protective side railings and canopy covers, and higher penalties for non-compliance, she added.
The number of people on board lorries who were injured or killed in road traffic accidents “has been on a downward trend”, noted Dr Khor.
“That said, declining injuries and fatalities from such accidents should not make us complacent. One life lost is still one too many.”
But regulatory changes at this time “will cause even more acute pain” to the industry compared to 10 years ago, because the industry is severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr Khor.
“Worker supply has been disrupted leading to severe manpower shortages, projects are already delayed, and productivity has been affected because of safe management measures.
"Further regulations will likely have impact on the completion of various building projects, from BTOs to MRTs to nursing homes and hospitals, spell the demise of some companies and the loss of workers’ livelihoods. We cannot simply ignore these considerations.”