Singapore

Friday’s fatal mishap among worst worksite accidents since 2004 Nicoll Highway tragedy

The Nicoll Highway accident killed four and injured three others, when a tunnel being constructed as part of the underground Circle Line, near Nicoll Highway station, collapsed on April 20, 2004. TODAY file photo
Two trainee SMRT employees were killed after being run over by a train as they carried out routine maintenance work on a track near Pasir Ris MRT Station on March 22, 2016. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY
SCDF rescuers conducting search-and-rescue operations during the Keppel Shipyard tanker fire incident which occurred on May 29, 2004. Photo: SCDF
On 4 April, 2006, three workers died and another three were injured at the Keppel Shipyard, when part of a crane and its 185-tonne load came crashing down. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY
On July 18, 2012, the collapse of a supporting framework structure during the construction of the Bugis Downtown Line MRT Station killed two workers and injured eight. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY
Two workers were killed and four others severely injured after a tower crane collapsed at the National Art Gallery construction site on Sept 30, 2013. TODAY file photo
A laboratory fire caused multiple explosions at the factory of a gas manufacturing firm in the Jurong industrial area, killing a 30-year-old chemist and injuring seven others including four members of the company’s emergency response team. Photo: SCDF
Published: 6:30 PM, July 15, 2017
Updated: 9:52 AM, July 16, 2017

SINGAPORE — The collapse of a highway structure under construction at Upper Changi Road East on Friday (July 14), which killed one worker and injured 10 others, is one of the worst construction worksite accidents since the Nicoll Highway collapse 13 years ago, where four people died.

TODAY looks at some fatal worksite accidents in recent years, as the authorities grapple with the perennial challenge of improving workplace safety.

April 20, 2004: Four people were killed and three others injured, when a tunnel being constructed as part of the underground Circle Line, near Nicoll Highway station, collapsed.

Just nine days later, a reinforcement cage at the Fusionopolis construction site at Ayer Rajah Avenue collapsed, killing two workers and injuring 29 others.

The following month, an oil tanker fire at Keppel Shipyard killed seven workers.

April 2006: Three workers died and another three were injured at SembCorp Marine’s PPL Shipyard, when a part of a crane and its 185-tonne load came crashing down.

July 2012: The collapse of a supporting framework structure during construction of the Downtown Line (DTL) Bugis Station killed two workers and injured eight.

September 2013: Two workers were killed and four others severely injured after a tower crane collapsed at the construction site of the National Art Gallery, near the Padang.

October 2015: A laboratory fire caused multiple explosions at the factory of a gas manufacturing firm in the Jurong industrial area, killing a 30-year-old chemist and injuring seven others.

March 2016: Two trainee SMRT staff were killed after being run over by a train as they were carrying out routine maintenance work on a track near Pasir Ris MRT Station.

Over the last few years, the workplace fatality rate has plateaued to around 2.0 per 100,000. Singapore’s target is to have fewer than 1.8 fatalities per 100,000 employees by 2018.

While the number of workplace fatalities has fluctuated between 55 and 70 cases over the past decade, it has been increasing since 2012, when 56 cases were reported.

There were 59 in 2013 and 60 in 2014, and 66 in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The construction sector continued to be the prime culprit last year, being responsible for 36 per cent of total workplace fatal injuries.

However, more workers have been getting hurt on the job. The total number of workplace injuries rose from 10,018 in 2007 to 13,014 last year.

While the construction sector has seen fewer injuries within that period — 831 in 2007 to 467 last year — it still has seen the second-highest overall injury rate since 2011, after the manufacturing sector.

Since the Nicoll Highway collapse, the authorities have made workplace safety a top issue to tackle, putting in place various initiatives.

To tackle safety risks at their source, the Government replaced the Factories Act with the Workplace Safety and Health Act in 2006. It requires all parties — employers, suppliers, occupiers, manufacturers, designers and workers — to assume responsibility for identifying the risks and to take steps to prevent or mitigate them.

In 2009, a new national plan for workplace safety and health (WSH) was launched. Two higher-risk sectors — marine and construction — were targeted first, with the aim of halving their fatality rates within five years.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) also sought to improve crane safety at workplaces in 2011, following an increase in the number of dangerous occurrences involving cranes.

In 2012, the MOM’s Occupational Safety and Health Division and the Workplace Safety and Health Council announced enhancements to workplace safety, such as the Enhanced Construction Safety Orientation Course for construction workers and the SNAP@MOM mobile app, which lets workers and the public report unsafe practices at worksites.

On the regulatory and enforcement front, the ministry reviewed existing WSH regulations and introduced new ones for various industries and job roles, including codes of practice for WSH risk management and safe-lifting operations in the workplace.

In 2014, the ministry also said it had enhanced its Business Under Surveillance programme — which closely supervises poorly performing companies — by broadening the entry criteria and tightening the exit criteria for businesses.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam noted that while overall workplace fatalities had fallen from 2005, “the rate of improvement has slowed and we are at risk of plateauing or even slipping back”.

Last year, following a spike in workplace fatalities, the MOM imposed harsher penalties on errant companies. Such companies face longer minimum stop-work order periods and could temporarily be barred from hiring new foreign workers.