SINGAPORE — Companies could face tougher penalties for lapses and developers will have to pay greater heed to the risk factors of their designs as part of the Government’s latest efforts to make a breakthrough in workplace safety and health.
Overall workplace fatalities have fallen from 4 per 100,000 employees in 2005, to 2.1 per 100,000 employees last year, “but the rate of improvement has slowed and we are at risk of plateauing or even slipping back”, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday, at the launch of this year’s National Workplace Safety and Health campaign. Singapore’s target is to have fewer than 1.8 fatalities per 100,000 employees by 2018.
In order to allow the Ministry of Manpower and the courts to send a “stronger deterrent message” against workplace safety lapses, a review of regulatory penalties and legislative framework is under way, said Mr Tharman. This is in addition to recent announcements, such as a stronger Stop Work Order regime and Business Under Surveillance programme, which targets firms performing poorly for close monitoring and supervision.
Mr Tharman also had harsh words for the construction sector, which accounted for 12 of the 19 workplace fatalities in the first three months of this year. Noting that the fatality rate in the sector had risen from 5.5 in 2011 to 7 last year, he said: “The situation is unacceptable and we cannot let it continue … ”
“With construction demand expected to remain strong, there is an especially pressing need to arrest this rise in worksite fatalities and achieve clear and lasting improvement in the sector’s workplace safety and health performance,” he added.
But Singapore cannot rely solely on downstream regulation and enforcement to achieve a breakthrough, said Mr Tharman.
To that end, the Government will soon make the Design for Safety programme binding for developers, to think through risk factors in the construction and maintenance of buildings at the design stage and allocate sufficient time and resources for the projects. They will also have to ensure stakeholders at the later stages of construction and building maintenance understand and factor the risks into their work.
Currently, it is up to developers to adopt such policies. City Developments Limited (CDL) is one of those who adopts this framework.
Its head of innovation and green building Allen Ang welcomed the move to make it compulsory, saying it could reduce workplace accidents and improve the industry’s overall safety standards.
Mr Ang said one of CDL’s policies is for external walls to be designed such that no scaffolding is required for construction, as scaffolding typically means workers are required to work at height. Its architects and engineers, therefore, have to propose designs that use pre-cast technology, for instance.
The mandatory framework will entail raising the “understanding and learning” of all developers, and it could mean more time required for planning in the early stages of a project, said Workplace Safety and Health Council chairman Lee Tzu Yang.
Dr Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association Limited, noted that the move might result in more buildable structures and “obviously, that will help safety”.
The regulatory requirements and timeframe for this framework will be announced by the end of this year, after details are worked out by an inter-agency workgroup led by the Manpower Ministry and the Building and Construction Authority.
Yesterday, Mr Tharman also said that, besides safety, employers should place equal emphasis on health, as Singapore’s workforce will grow older and become more susceptible to work-related health risks if no adjustments are made in the work environment.