Heightened safety period to end but new measures introduced to improve workplace safety
The workplace fatality rate improved since September 2022, but the major injury rate worsened over the same period.
SINGAPORE: The heightened safety period imposed from September last year will end on May 31, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced on Tuesday (May 23).
But some requirements will remain, and new measures will be introduced to create “sustainable workplace safety (and) health outcomes”, the ministry said.
The heightened safety period was introduced after a spate of workplace-related fatalities in 2022. The number of workplace deaths in 2022 was 46, the highest number since 2016 when there were 66 fatalities.
In February, the MOM extended the heightened safety period by three months, pointing to past trends that showed higher workplace injury numbers after Chinese New Year as companies rush to compensate for lost time. As of Mar 3, there have been six workplace deaths this year.
Singapore’s workplace fatality rate per 100,000 workers has fallen to 0.8 since the measures were imposed, down from 1.5 for January to August 2022, MOM said in a press release.
The MOM’s Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) target for 2028 is to keep the fatality rate below 1.
“The (heightened safety period) has served its purpose as an urgent call on employers to prioritise safety and bring down workplace fatalities,” it said.
However, the ministry noted that the major injuries rate per 100,000 workers worsened to 19.2, from 16.8 previously. The improvement in safety was also uneven across different industries.
Construction showed the most improvement, though it remains the top contributor to the absolute number of fatal and major injuries. The fatal and major injury rate in the manufacturing sector worsened to 39.3 during the heightened safety period, higher than the construction industry’s rate of 34.5.
“This indicates the need for more sector-specific intervention to improve workplace safety outcomes,” MOM wrote.Mr
Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, also expressed concern at the major injuries rate. But he ruled out extending the heightened safety period indefinitely.
"It relies primarily on tougher enforcements and penalties, and is not a sustainable approach," he said. "As we exit HSP (heightened safety period), we need to recognise that it takes the collective will, responsibility and effort of the entire ecosystem to keep our workers safe and healthy."
NEW SAFETY MEASURES
To strengthen ownership of WSH “fundamentally and sustainably”, the multi-agency workplace safety taskforce will be retaining some measures from the heightened safety period and implementing new requirements.
The demerit points system for WSH breaches in the construction sector will be expanded to the manufacturing sector from October this year. Companies that accumulate 25 demerit points or more for WSH infringements within an 18-month period will be temporarily barred from employing foreign employees.
Construction tenders by government procurement entities will need to have more stringent safety requirements. Main and sub-contractors will have to meet a set of safety criteria, and there will be a minimum safety weightage when evaluating tenders.
Contractors may be temporarily disqualified from tenders if systemic workplace breaches are discovered or if they accumulate more than 25 demerit points for safety infringements. A WSH bonus scheme may also be introduced to incentivise good safety performance. More details will be announced at a later date.
A video surveillance system will be required at construction sites where the project value is more than S$5 million (US$3.72 million) from June next year to help companies manage safety. The surveillance can help identify risks, facilitate investigations and deter unsafe behaviour.
Measures that will remain after the heightened safety period ends include requiring chief executives to personally account for selected cases of serious lapses and requiring companies to engage auditors if major injuries occur and a stop-work order is imposed.
Chief executives will also still need to attend an in-person WSH programme if serious lapses are uncovered after safety incidents.
From March next year, chief executives and board directors of all firms in higher-risk industries will be required to attend a WSH programme online or in person.
Other new measures include imposing duties on manufacturers and suppliers to ensure that industrial machines, equipment and hazardous substances are used safely, and providing an additional avenue for small and medium enterprises to improve WSH capabilities and an online learning component for workers doing safety courses.
Companies will also need to monitor noise in the workplace and send workers exposed to excessive noise for annual hearing examinations.
On Tuesday, the WSH Council launched a campaign with the tagline “Reporting Saves Lives”, which calls on employers to set up an internal reporting framework to reduce risks. Workers are encouraged to proactively report unsafe situations to their employers, union leaders or MOM, and members of the public can also highlight safety concerns.
“Everyone should play their part to report unsafe workplace situations and take an active role in preventing workplace injuries and fatalities,” MOM said in a press release.
Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of National Development Tan Kiat How said he is encouraged by the outcomes following the heightened safety period.
“But our work does not stop here. We must continue strengthening the workplace safety culture and mindset in our industry,” he said.