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29 January 2014

Working together to improve workplace safety standards

29 January 2014

**Update**

I am appalled that there has been yet another serious accident involving formwork. This afternoon, a formwork structure collapsed at Sentosa, injuring 11 workers. One unfortunately died on the way to hospital. This must not continue. Construction companies must recognise that work on projects bidded for must be done, but done responsibly as lives are at stake. There should not be any more grim reminders of the need for safe practices.

We will investigate the accident thoroughly, and we will take strong actions to address these accidents. Irresponsible contractors who cut corners just to rush construction jobs will face harsh penalties under the law, including imprisonment.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

 

2014 has started on a sombre note. To date, eight workers have lost their lives to workplace accidents. This is not tenable. It is an employer’s basic responsibility to ensure that every worker returns home safely at the end of a hard day’s work. Employers must do everything they can to fulfil this responsibility. 

In my discussions with my colleagues from our Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSHD), I have found that in every case, the accidents could have been avoided. I have asked the OSHD to undertake thorough investigations to identify the circumstances that led to these accidents and recommend ways to prevent recurrences. We will not hesitate to take action against parties responsible for the lapses.

Accidents often result in serious injuries, and quite a number of them result in the loss of lives. In some cases, we were more fortunate: no serious injuries were reported. For example, over the weekend of 11 January, two accidents involving the collapse of formwork during concreting took place, but only a minor injury was suffered. We cannot depend on luck and take such accidents lightly. The Ministry issued an advisory to professional engineers on 18 January to remind them of their obligations to carry out proper design, inspections and supervision of formwork construction and concreting processes. This was followed by stepped-up inspections of construction sites from 20 January. In the past week, OSHD have conducted 42 inspections of formwork structures, and four have resulted in Stop-Work Orders that require occupiers to rectify safety lapses before resuming work. 


MOM officers inspecting fall prevention and work-at-height measures that 
safeguard workers at high-rise construction sites, which are prevalent in Singapore.


 MOM officers checking that the two different types of formwork used to construct the building 
are compatible when placed together, and that their design is certified by a Professional Engineer.


MOM officers check formwork structures to ensure that they are erected according to the designs certified by a Professional Engineer (or PE). Deviating from the certified design could result in a weaker structure. The orange netting is a warning that walking under the formwork structure should be avoided.


Unfortunately, even as we stepped-up our inspection regime, two fatal accidents took place and two workers lost their lives. One worker was injured in a formwork accident after the structure that he was standing on tilted. He was conveyed to hospital, but succumbed to his injuries last Friday. Another died just yesterday (28 January), after the formwork structure he was standing on collapsed and he fell four storeys to his death. 

We must work together to do more to put a stop to poor safety practices. In addition to fines and Stop-Work Orders, MOM also has programmes that help companies assess and improve their workplace safety and health systems. Among these are the Business Under Surveillance (BUS) programme and the Demerit Point System (DPS). Together, these programmes help companies know where they stand in terms of safety performance, and allow MOM officers to work with the companies to improve safety standards. I have asked OSHD to review both BUS and DPS over the next few months to increase their effectiveness in helping companies assess and improve their workplace safety and health systems.

MOM’s effort to improve workplace safety in the construction sector also includes collaboration with industry players. We actively work with industry to draw on their experience and suggestions for better and safer ways to work. For instance, we are working with formwork suppliers to discuss how formwork-related work processes could be enhanced to improve workplace safety and health outcomes. 

My colleagues meet frequently with industry leaders from the construction sector, who had informed me that contractors are often under pressure to meet deadlines for their projects. This may have led to the adoption of unsafe work procedures in order to speed things up. I want to make it clear that, tight timelines or otherwise, there is no excuse for cutting corners or sacrificing workers’ safety or their lives.

Accidents can also happen in other sectors. Every workplace has its hazards, and the results of poor safety practices can be horrific wherever they occur. In August last year, a worker in a vehicle workshop succumbed to severe brain trauma after being struck by the locking pin of a tyre that was being inflated. Two months later, a worker at a food manufacturing plant died after being pinned by a trailer when he was unloading new bottles. It is therefore critical that all workers stay vigilant, regardless of the industry they work in. 

This is why the Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSHC) have launched their latest festive campaign - “Work safely. Your family awaits your return.” It is a timely reminder of the importance of workplace safety and health, especially as we head into the Lunar New Year holidays. 

Other than reaching out through the mass media, WSHC has also produced a short web video called “The Break In” – the second in a series of webisodes showcasing the most common types of accidents found in the F&B and retail sectors. This is now posted on WSHC’s Facebook page and I encourage you to view and share it with your loved ones.  The Council also organises industry events including the biennial Singapore WSH Conference where both employers and employees can learn more about WSH practices.  

Workplace safety and health is everyone’s responsibility. I urge all companies to take ownership of workplace safety and health at your workplaces, and all stakeholders, including employees, to work towards a strong safety culture in Singapore.  


Tan Chuan-Jin
Acting Minister for Manpower
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