Wednesday 22 May 2013

Govt to ramp up workplace safety efforts

Bid to set bar higher, cut fatality rate to match that of developed countries
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 21 May 2013

THE Government will take the lead as Singapore redoubles its effort to reduce workplace fatalities to 1.8 in 100,000 employees sooner than its 2018 deadline.

The fatality rate has already halved from four in 100,000 employees in 2005 to 2.1 last year, but Singapore needs to set a more ambitious goal to match that of developed countries like Britain (0.6), Germany (0.7) and Australia (1.9), urged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

He was speaking at the launch of this year's National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign held at Asia Square, where 37 government agencies committed to workplace safety and health in public projects.

Contractors for their projects must be recognised by a government-initiated workplace safety programme, bizSafe, to have at least implemented a risk management plan assessed by an independent auditor. The agencies must also appoint a management representative to oversee safety and health issues.

Mr Lee, who launched the campaign five years ago, noted the progress made, but expressed disappointment that reductions in fatality rates have levelled off in the past three years.

Workplace deaths that made the headlines last year included two Chinese nationals who were killed in July when a temporary roof collapsed at the Downtown Line's Bugis MRT station site.

Mr Lee also called for concurrent efforts to reduce workplace injuries and occupational diseases. Many can be prevented, he said, like falling from height and noise-induced deafness.

He identified two at-risk groups in the construction, manufacturing and marine sectors where most incidents took place.

One group are foreign workers, whose different languages and work practices at home increase the risk of an accident here.

At stake are their families back home whom they are supporting, Mr Lee told 300 employers and industry leaders at the launch: "We owe it to them to keep them safe, and we value them the same as we value Singaporean workers."

Another group are the employees of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Their managements often lack the capability or means to put in place safety and health practices, and staff turnover makes it hard to build a strong safety culture, he said.

Nonetheless, Mr Lee called on both employers and workers to do their part, citing two examples.

In the past two years, local engineering firm LSK Engineering has not had any injury cases that led to a fatality, at least 24 hours of hospitalisation or more than three days of medical leave in a row.

Credit goes to a worker buddy system and a "no finger-pointing policy" aimed at getting to the bottom of risky practices instead of pinning the blame on anyone, managing director Roger Heng, 52, told reporters later.

At NatSteel, assistant production officer Mohamed Zaharul Islam Md Youshaf Ali Khan, 34, a Bangladeshi, designed a device to make loading steel cages on trailers less risky. A rigger used to climb onto the cages to remove the chain slings for hoisting them, risking a 3m fall. But now, he can release the slings by pulling a handle, while standing on the ground.

Workplace Safety and Health Council chairman Lee Tzu Yang noted that with government agencies making clear their safety requirements, their contractors - including SMEs - should follow suit. He said: "We drive it from who's paying for the work."

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