Companies ordered to conduct mandatory time-out to review safety procedures amid uptick in workplace fatalities and injuries
SINGAPORE: Companies in higher risk sectors will be required to conduct a mandatory safety time-out to review safety procedures, announced the Ministry of Manpower on Thursday (Sep 1).
These companies must conduct the safety time-out by Sep 15, said the ministry, adding that those who fail to do so will be debarred from employing new foreign employees for one month.
This is the first time a mandatory safety-time out has been imposed. In a press statement on Thursday, MOM said the length of the safety time-out should also be “sufficiently long” to review risks corresponding to the scale of their operations.
The requirement - which will apply to all companies in the construction, manufacturing, marine, process or transport and storage industries as well as industries that use heavy or industrial vehicles - was among a slew of new measures introduced on Thursday to tackle rising workplace fatalities.
Since the start of the year, Singapore has reported 36 workplace fatalities, of which five occurred last month.
In comparison, there were 37 fatalities recorded for the whole of last year and 30 in 2020.
Speaking to reporters at a media briefing on Thursday, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said while he understands that companies are still adjusting to the new work tempo, workplace safety cannot be compromised.
“Companies cannot put safety on the backburner just to catch up on work progress or as they ramp up business activity. The bottom line is that we cannot put our workers lives at risk and we have to set our baseline with zero tolerance to fatalities and injuries,” he said.
“This is very important to us.”
Calling on company leaders to do more to protect their workers, he said: “You are in the best position to set a positive workplace safety and health culture and shape safety practices on the ground.”
“Any disruptions that you face as a result of lax safety practices are temporary, but the impact of injuries and fatalities on the workers and their families are permanent.”
To strengthen workplace safety, MOM introduced a six-month “heightened safety” period, which takes effect from Thursday till Feb 28.
Under this, companies who are found to have serious workplace safety lapses as well as their senior management will be held more accountable.
Among the new measures, companies with unsafe workplace conditions or poor risk controls following serious or fatal workplace accidents may be debarred from employing new foreign employees for up to three months.
Chief executives of these companies will also be required to personally account to MOM and take responsibility for rectifications.
Pointing out that more than half of workplace fatalities and injuries this year involved small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Mr Zaqy said MOM will expand the scale of an existing programme that provides SMEs with access to consultants who can help them identify safety and health risks at the workplace and implement good practices.
Between January and June, MOM took enforcement action against more than 9,000 workplace safety breaches - double the number of such breaches in the same period last year.
TARGETED MEASURES FOR CONSTRUCTION SECTOR
With the construction sector being a top contributor of workplace fatalities and serious injuries, targeted measures to strengthen workplace safety within the sector will kick in from next month.
This includes lowering the threshold for issuing demerit points under an existing system implemented in the construction sector, meaning that more demerit points will be issued for workplace safety breaches.
The revised demerit point system also means that errant companies with consistently poor safety performance will reach the penalty thresholds more quickly, resulting in being debarred from hiring foreign employees for up to two years.
From Oct 1, all public sector construction tenders will include a new, harmonised set of disqualification criteria. This will temporarily disqualify contractors with poor workplace safety and health performance from participating in these tenders.
Finally, a multi-sectoral task force chaired by Mr Zaqy will be set up to strengthen workplace safety practices and outcomes. This will be advised by an external experts panel comprising industry representatives and WSH consultants.
National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Melvin Yong said NTUC supports the imposition of the mandatory safety time-out for high-risk sectors and for companies that use heavy or industrial vehicles.
"We also welcome the funding support for SMEs to engage workplace safety and health consultants to enhance their safety practices," he wrote in a Facebook post.
He said that NTUC hopes MOM would consider expanding the mandatory safety time-out to more sectors.
"The review of the company’s workplace safety and health systems and processes during the safety time-out should involve all stakeholders, from the management team to workers and unions, as well as subcontractors and suppliers," Mr Yong added.
He also asked MOM to consider requiring all companies in high-risk sectors to conduct a workplace safety and health audit - done by an external auditor - as part of the safety time out.