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Companies take steps to protect workers from haze

SINGAPORE — As the air quality worsened to a new low yesterday and the Government warning that hazy conditions could persist for weeks to come, some employers here have gone beyond distributing masks and provided workers with some measure of relief from the smog, although others chose to wait for the Government’s lead.

Companies take steps to protect workers from haze

Construction workers at a worksite wearing face masks. Photo: Don Wong

SINGAPORE — As the air quality worsened to a new low yesterday and the Government warning that hazy conditions could persist for weeks to come, some employers here have gone beyond distributing masks and provided workers with some measure of relief from the smog, although others chose to wait for the Government’s lead.

A day after the Republic registered a historical high Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading of 321 — which soared to 371 yesterday afternoon — some bosses, especially those whose employees work outdoors for prolonged periods, told them to cease work completely, suspended work when haze levels breached a threshold, or halted certain kinds of work. Others granted workers the day off, allowed employees to work from home, and even prepared chrysanthemum tea for workers.

For many companies, however, it was business as usual as they wanted “clearer direction from the relevant authorities” first, as construction firm Antara Koh’s Managing Director Jimmy Koh put it.

Meanwhile, the Labour Movement reiterated its call for employers to “take immediate and proactive measures” to safeguard the health and safety of workers.

The plight of those working outdoors for long hours, in particular, was highlighted by Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU). Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Tan said: “Our areas of (concern) remain focused on those working outdoors, especially if under strenuous conditions and/or being outdoors on a prolonged basis. We also need to ascertain essential services and how best to provide these in a manner that is safe for our workers.”

BATU Executive Secretary Zainal Sapari also urged companies “not to penalise workers who are unable to complete certain tasks or are taken ill due to the effects of the haze”.

Non-government organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) also urged equal access to “precautions” against the haze for migrant workers.

Hiap Hoe Ltd, which has two ongoing building projects, was one of those not waiting for the authorities to act first. Its General Manager for constructions Charlotte Tan said work will cease when the PSI breaches 350, adding that workers are being asked to carry out more indoor work, such as plastering, “so that they don’t get exposed to the haze for too long”.

The PAP town councils also said non-essential maintenance services — landscaping work, block washing and spring-cleaning of market and food centres — will be postponed.

Maintenance workers will also avoid going to rooftops and water tank areas except for “emergency purposes”. Robert Bosch (South-east Asia) has advised its 750 employees to work from home with immediate effect, while photography company Meese Studios gave its workers the day off yesterday.

Its Director Irvin Tan said: “Should I (risk the health) of my wage workers? If these people, whom I’ve painstakingly sought to hire, fall ill, then it reflects badly on the humanity of our company and what we stand for.”

Royal Plaza on Scotts hotel is brewing chrysanthemum tea for all its employees, saying the tea’s anti-viral properties will provide relief for sore throat and respiratory problems.

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