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Training safety: 70% of units audited by Inspector-General’s Office, amid 'challenges to build strong safety culture in SAF'

SINGAPORE — The Inspector-General’s Office (IGO), which was set up early last year to improve safety standards during National Service training, has audited 70 per cent of the units in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and will complete the remaining audits by September this year, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said on Monday (March 2).

The Inspector General’s Office, which was set up early last year to improve safety standards during national service training.

The Inspector General’s Office, which was set up early last year to improve safety standards during national service training.

SINGAPORE — The Inspector-General’s Office (IGO), which was set up early last year to improve safety standards during National Service training, has audited 70 per cent of the units in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and will complete the first round of audits by September this year, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said on Monday (March 2).

The IGO was set up in February 2019 following the death of four soldiers in training over a span of 18 months.

The most high-profile case was that of actor Aloysius Pang in January last year, who died due to injuries he sustained while carrying out repairs inside a Singapore self-propelled howitzer in New Zealand.

Mr Heng said that as part of the audit, IGO inspectors have been going down to each unit to assess if robust safety systems are in place.

They have also been interviewing servicemen at every level to understand how safety measures are practised on the ground and whether soldiers feel comfortable providing feedback on safety, he said.

Mr Heng stressed that beyond safety audits, there must also be concrete action on the ground, adding that the Army has introduced 100 per cent inspections of all high-risk activities and field training. 

“Our existing equipment are regularly reviewed, while new equipment are designed with in-built safety features,” he said.

For instance, the newly-commissioned Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle includes emergency stop features and audio and visual alerts to prompt the crew about surrounding hazards, he said.

Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee, who is the SAF Inspector-General heading the IGO, said that it is challenging to build a strong safety culture in the SAF, given the short amount of time that NSFs spend in National Service and operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) in reservist.

“So we found that in certain units, the movement or distilling of the safety emphasis down the command chain to the soldiers may not be as strong, and is being reflected in our surveys and in our interviews and outcomes,” he said to reporters in a phone interview last Friday.

He said that in the IGO’s survey of active units, NSmen and NS units over the past year, it found that those that had embedded safety into their daily routine were usually the ones with the strongest safety culture.

He added that at an SAF level, the IGO has pushed the services and units to institutionalise safety as part of their daily routine.

“And by that what we mean is that, on a daily basis, there should be regular safety briefings, there should be regular sharing of watch areas, and a very clear articulation of some of the no-go criteria in high risk training activities,” said BG Tan who is also Chief of Staff-Joint Staff.

“At the same time we are also looking to make sure that there are before, during and after action reviews, (that) the processes for these training exercises also incorporate safety so that our soldiers have a chance to highlight any safety observations in the course of their training,” he added.

He said that in its last year of audit, the IGO had found areas for improvement in safety practices. 

These areas include the communication between soldiers and commanders on safety matters, some aspects of training supervision and NS training.

He added that the IGO also felt that those in the “last mile leadership” such as platoon commanders and platoon sergeants also needed to put in more effort to engage their soldiers on a daily basis so that they can internalise safety.

To encourage soldiers to openly report safety lapses, the IGO is in the process of making sure that every unit appoints safety advocates from the rank and file.

He said that the scheme will allow advocates to have direct access to unit safety officers and unit Commanding Officers. As such, if these advocates feel that they cannot openly report to their direct supervisors or commanders, they have another channel to highlight their safety observations. 

He added that going forward, the IGO will make sure that units that did not fare so well in the audits have rectified the issues raised. The IGO will also refine its audit and inspection regimes.

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SAF Mindef National Service Aloysius Pang death safety

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