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SAF's new inspector-general studying safety practices before making improvements

SINGAPORE — The new Inspector-General’s Office (IGO), set up in January following a spate of National Service training-related deaths, has “some ideas” about how it can strengthen safety standards across the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), but has to observe the reality on the ground first.

Army Safety Inspectorate personnel conducting a training safety inspection at Pasir Laba Camp on Feb 28, 2019.

Army Safety Inspectorate personnel conducting a training safety inspection at Pasir Laba Camp on Feb 28, 2019.

SINGAPORE — The new Inspector-General’s Office (IGO), set up in January following a spate of National Service training-related deaths, has “some ideas” about how it can strengthen safety standards across the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), but has to observe the reality on the ground first.

Brigadier-General (BG) Tan Chee Wee, who has been appointed the SAF’s first Inspector-General, told reporters on Thursday (Feb 28) that he and his team are spending some time to observe how safety inspections are conducted today and study the SAF’s existing safety culture.

This will help the IGO “best assess what is the current state of open reporting, what is the current level of safety awareness and safety culture in our units and then finally, in terms of inspections, are there gaps or weak areas that we should address, so that we can strengthen the entire inspection system”, he said.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a safety inspection at Pasir Laba Camp, which he was observing.

“At this point, we have some ideas but we need to go through a term period of observation to confirm some of our hypotheses before we begin to solve them and develop the provisional modality of how we do the inspections on the ground and how we feed it back into the SAF system,” he said.

Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee, Inspector-General of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), speaks to members of the media at Pasir Laba Camp on Feb 28, 2019. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY

BG Tan added that the Army Safety Inspectorate’s (ASI) inspection system is already "pretty comprehensive" and that the IGO does not want to duplicate its role.

The ASI oversees safety issues in the SAF and one of its key functions is to conduct safety audits and training inspections.

During a debate over the Ministry of Defence’s budget in Parliament on Friday (March 1), Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How announced that all high-risk and field training exercises will undergo safety inspections.

While all high-risk training exercises already undergo such safety inspections, not all field training exercises do.

For example, section tactical drills that do not involve ammunition would not have had to undergo mandated safety inspections before.

TODAY understands that Exercise Thunder Warrior in New Zealand, which the late actor Aloysius Pang was undergoing when he was crushed by the barrel of a self-propelled howitzer, is considered a high-risk activity, for which safety inspections were already mandated before Friday’s announcement.

BG Tan noted that there have been “some questions” about whether such initiatives would help prevent more training accidents.

The issue has been in the spotlight, after four NS training-related deaths in 16 months, the most recent being that of Pang, who died in late January while on reservist training in New Zealand. 

That is why the IGO is taking time to observe the SAF’s safety culture and how inspections are being carried out now.

“I will say that to a large extent, what we're trying to do is to connect the policy level and the system level to the behaviour on the ground,” BG Tan said.

“Is there a gap between policy doctrine and implementation? I think that's the most important focus for us.”

 

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