Workplace Health & Safety for the Modern Workplace: Singapore Law Review

August 4, 20203:30 pm756 views
Workplace Health & Safety for the Modern Workplace: Singapore Law Review
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The Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) and its subsidiary legislation are the primary statutes for regulating workplace health and safety in Singapore. These are supported by Codes of Practice issued or approved by Singapore ’s Workplace Safety and Health Council. The council provides practical guidance on the minimum standards expected of employers to comply with their WSHA obligations.

General obligations 

Under the WSHA, employers and principals have a duty to take all reasonably practicable measures necessary to ensure the health and safety of their employees and contractors at work. Such measures include: 

  • Providing a safe work environment, with adequate facilities and arrangements for their welfare. 
  • Ensuring that adequate safety measures are taken.
  • Ensuring employees are not exposed to any hazards arising out of their work.
  • Developing and implementing procedures for dealing with emergencies that may arise while employees are at work. 
  • Ensuring they receive adequate instruction, information, training and supervision as is necessary for them to perform their work.

See also: HR Update: New Employment Rules & Law in Singapore

Principals should note that the obligations mentioned extend to any direct or indirect subcontractor engaged by a contractor, as well as any worker employed by a contractor or subcontractor. The WSHA generally adopts a non-prescriptive approach to what specific safety measures must be taken and allows organizations the flexibility to adopt suitable methods according to their business needs.

Emotional well-being

One aspect of workplace safety and health that is at times overlooked is the need for employers to provide an emotionally safe and healthy working environment for their employees. EY review cited that employers are encouraged to take adequate measures to prevent and respond to cases of workplace harassment, such as implementing workplace harassment-prevention policies and effective grievance-handling policies. In this regard, the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment is a good starting point for employers to evaluate their own practices.

Furthermore, Singapore ’s workplace health and safety laws have traditionally been most concerned with blue-collar work and preventing workplace accidents and deaths. However, there appears to be a greater awareness and advocacy for the importance of managing mental health issues. Two members of Parliament raised the issue of mental well-being during Parliamentary debates on the most recent amendments to Singapore’s Employment Act. Similarly, in April 2019, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower and the Workplace Safety and Health Council jointly released the WSH 2028 report, which lays out Singapore’s workplace health and safety strategies for the next decade.

One strategic outcome identified by the report is the promotion of good workforce health, which includes the management of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, as well as mental health. These sound bites, coupled with the increasing proportion of white-collar workers in Singapore, suggest greater scrutiny of employers’ practices in this space in the near future. 

Today’s workplace health and safety landscape is characterized by strong Tripartite partnerships among the Government, employers and trade unions to promote and recognize good practices instead of driving compliance by punitive measures. Employers are thus encouraged to adopt a proactive and holistic approach to workplace health and safety, even if they are not legally obliged to do so. Robust systems can go beyond mere legal compliance to serve as an indicator of organizational excellence.

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