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MOM imposes 'heightened safety' period; errant firms to be barred from hiring new foreign workers for up to 3 months

SINGAPORE — A six-month "heightened safety" period has been imposed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to address a recent spate of workplace fatalities. The labour movement welcomed the move that was announced on Thursday (Sept 1) but said that "more should be done" to prevent safety lapses.

MOM imposes 'heightened safety' period; errant firms to be barred from hiring new foreign workers for up to 3 months

Singapore

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  • The Ministry of Manpower is imposing a period of "heightened safety" from Sept 1, 2022 to Feb 28, 2023 to stem the tide of workplace deaths
  • A company can be barred from employing new foreign employees for up to three months if found to have poor safety conditions after a serious or fatal accident
  • It will also be mandatory for companies in industries such as construction and manufacturing to review their safety procedures from Sept 1 to 15
  • MOM will increase the demerit points issued to construction firms for major injury and dangerous occurrences
  • NTUC's assistant secretary-general welcomed the measures but said more should be done to prevent safety lapses

SINGAPORE — A six-month "heightened safety" period has been imposed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to address a recent spate of workplace fatalities. The labour movement welcomed the move that was announced on Thursday (Sept 1) but said that "more should be done" to prevent safety lapses.

From Thursday to Feb 28 next year, a company may be barred from hiring new foreign employees for up to three months if it was found to have serious workplace safety and health breaches, such as unsafe workplace conditions or poor risk controls, after a serious or fatal workplace accident.

Examples of poor risk controls or unsafe workplace conditions include not installing barricades at work sites situated in high areas, or allowing unlicensed workers to operate forklifts.

Chief executives of errant companies will also have to personally account to the ministry and take responsibility for efforts to improve their companies' safety measures.

This is the first time that the ministry is imposing a heightened safety period, and the move came after a recent spate of workplace deaths in sectors such as construction and manufacturing.

To date, there have been 36 workplace deaths this year, one fewer than for the whole of last year.

Announcing the new measures to reporters at the ministry’s headquarters on Thursday, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, said that many of these deaths could have been prevented with basic precautions.

It was also of concern that these deaths involved experienced workers, he added.

“This indicates that the root cause is safety lapses and poor risk controls across both large and small firms as well as across sectors.” 

Although companies are dealing with a backlog of projects now that Singapore is recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, they “cannot put safety on the backburner” and put workers’ lives at risk.

This is why the ministry is imposing a period of heightened safety, he explained.

SAFETY TIME-OUT

As part of the heightened safety measures, companies will be required to conduct a mandatory safety time-out by allocating time to review their safety procedures and complete activities required by MOM from Thursday to Sept 15.

Industries that have to comply with this safety time-out include those in the construction, manufacturing, marine, process or transport and storage industries. Companies in other industries that use heavy or industrial vehicles such as lorries or forklifts will also have to comply with this directive.

These companies will be issued with a circular and a safety time-out checklist by MOM. Companies will have to follow the items listed out in the checklist such as requiring top management to do a walk-about on worksites to encourage workers to report safety risks, and to share learning points from recent fatal incidents.

Companies will have to show documentary proof of having completed the checklist when MOM officers visit companies for routine inspections or investigations.

The length of the safety time-out, which can range from anything within a few hours to several days, will depend on how long companies need to review risks in their workplaces and correspond to the scale of their operations.

Companies will not be allowed to employ new foreign employees for one month if they are found to be non-compliant with the safety time-out, MOM said in a press release on Thursday.

REVISED DEMERIT SYSTEM

From next month, construction companies will also be given more demerit points for workplace safety and health breaches under MOM’s demerit point system.

For example, the demerit points given for major injury and dangerous occurrences will be increased from 18 to 25.

Errant companies with consistently poor workplace safety and health performance that reach the penalty threshold of 25 demerit points will be banned from hiring foreign employees for up to two years, MOM said.

MORE HELP FOR SMALLER FIRMS 

The ministry will expand the resources for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that want to hire consultants to identify workplace safety risks under its StartSafe programme.

The programme provides SMEs with access to consultants who can help them identify workplace risks and implement good safety practices. Under the programme, the costs of hiring the consultants are fully borne by MOM.

Mr Zaqy also announced on Thursday that he will chair a new task force, comprising representatives from several government agencies such as the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of Transport, to look into work practices and industry structures.

The task force will aim to strengthen safety practices in different industries. It will also tap the ideas and advice of industry representatives and workplace safety and health consultants.

MORE MEASURES NEEDED TO REINFORCE WORKPLACE SAFETY

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Mr Melvin Yong, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, welcomed the measures but called for more to be done.

Mr Yong would like MOM to consider expanding the mandatory stop-work order to more sectors, and added that the review of a company's safety systems and processes during the time-out should involve all stakeholders, from the management team to workers and unions, as well as sub-contractors and suppliers.

All businesses in high-risk sectors should have an external workplace safety and health auditor to conduct an audit on their safety management system as part of the safety time-out.

"We also call on companies to set up workplace safety committees with worker or union representatives to track workplace safety and health performance, discuss and implement workplace safety and health measures, including setting up reporting channels and assuring workers that there would not be any reprisal and all feedback will be looked into seriously," Mr Yong added.

Related topics

Zaqy Mohamad MOM workplace safety

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