Friday 30 January 2015

Manpower Ministry launches three-week enforcement operation at construction sites

MOM steps up checks on construction sites
3-week blitz to cover more than 200 sites to ensure safety first in CNY deadline rush
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

THE Manpower Ministry has started a three-week enforcement blitz to stamp out unsafe workplace practices at more than 200 construction sites.

The initiative comes after investigations into eight deaths in January last year showed contractors were rushing work and disregarding key safety procedures to meet deadlines before the Chinese New Year break.

The operation, which is on top of regular inspections MOM conducts throughout the year, will end by early February, said a press statement.

Inspectors are looking out for lapses in formwork, work-at-heights and lifting operations, among others.

On Jan 23, a Bangladeshi worker died after being struck by a formwork panel, a mould for concrete to be poured into, while assembling it with three colleagues.

The accident happened along Alexandra Terrace at a worksite managed by Shimizu Corporation. The company was engaged by developer Mapletree Business City.

The ministry has instructed the contractor to stop assembly of formwork panels and investigations are ongoing.

Between 2010 and 2013, the number of workers who were killed in the month of January ranged from zero to three.

Contractors disagreed that deadlines are rushed in the run-up to Chinese New Year, saying they have no lack of labour for the festive period among their mainly Indian and Bangladeshi workers.

Chinese nationals also prefer to work. "Leaving Singapore means earning less and spending more," said Mr Richard Teo, a project manager with CHL Contruction.

Instead, they put forward a record number of projects last year coupled with a tight labour market as reasons for any safety lapses.

Last year, an all-time high of $37.7 billion in construction deals was recorded, according to the Building and Construction Authority.

"We have more projects to complete but the same number of workers to do them," said Mr Kenneth Loo, executive director of Straits Construction.

From January to June last year, 17 deaths were recorded, the highest since 2006.

Errant employers will face thorough investigations, harsh penalties and corrective actions such as intensified monitoring, inspections and training requirements, said Mr Chan Yew Kwong, director of MOM's Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate.

Under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, companies that fail to take reasonably practical measures to ensure the safety and health of their workers can be fined up to $500,000 for a first offence.

* Six stop-work orders, 272 non-compliance notices and 147 fines issued as three-week safety blitz ends
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2015

Work has been suspended at six construction sites, following a three-week safety blitz, codenamed Operation Sunbird, by the Manpower Ministry.

Of the 214 worksites inspected, 191 had violated the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act. A total of 272 non-compliance notices and 147 fines, amounting $156,000, were slapped on the errant companies, said the ministry on Tuesday.

Common infractions include unbarricaded areas along sides of buildings, missing toe-boards (which workers can fall through), and failure to provide safe access to scaffolding, inspectors found.

The operation, which ended in early February, was started this year (2015) after a spate of fatal accidents leading up to Chinese New Year, where companies have been found to rush work to meet deadlines.

According to statistics by the Work Safety and Health Council, most fatal injuries occur in the construction sector, with falls the leading cause of deaths. In 2013, 33 construction workers died. Seventeen of those fell to their deaths. Statistics for last year (2014) will be released in March.

At a site visit along Jalan Ampas, which The Straits Times visited on Tuesday, inspectors found that lifting operations were conducted in a dangerous manner. Instead of threading ropes through the palette used to support the load, they were tied to the palettes' sides and resulted in splintering along the sides of the palette. There were also insufficient or missing guardrails, among other safety violations.

The Straits Times understands that the site, occupied by Singbuild, has been told to stop work.

The Ministry has also observed that some companies "chose to take the easy way out by cutting corners in safety to meet project deadlines" - an attitude that the Minister has chided as "irresponsible and unacceptable".

He added: "Tight schedules should not be an excuse to put workers at risk. Deadlines must be met but never at the expense of.. lives and well-being."

MOM Launches Construction Safety Enforcement Blitz
MOM Imposes Penalties on 191 Construction Worksites for Poor WSH Practices
Fewer killed at work, but it's still 'too high'
Operation Sunbird: 9 in 10 worksites inspected found to have safety lapses

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