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Stiffer penalties needed for bosses who flout workplace safety laws

The latest workplace fatality reported on Aug 24 — involving a worker who fell into the sea at a Tuas shipyard — is indeed sad to read, and it brings the tally to 33 workplace deaths so far this year.

Migrant workers are seen working outdoors in Singapore at a construction site. A TODAY reader has called for more stringent penalties targeting employers amid the spate of workplace accidents in Singapore.

Migrant workers are seen working outdoors in Singapore at a construction site. A TODAY reader has called for more stringent penalties targeting employers amid the spate of workplace accidents in Singapore.

Benjamin Ng Chee Keang

The latest workplace fatality reported on Aug 24 — involving a worker who fell into the sea at a Tuas shipyard — is indeed sad to read, and it brings the tally to 33 workplace deaths so far this year.

All stakeholders must act together to prevent workplace accidents from happening.

Very often, one of the top causes of workplace accidents is the lack of focus on health and safety by the top management of companies.

Directors may be more inclined to prioritise profits over safety as their performance is often appraised in terms of their financial bottom line.

The role played by company leaders is arguably more important than that of other stakeholders as they are the only parties who can approve the allocation of resources to improve safety.

The upcoming Approved Code of Practices (Acop) for Company Directors’ WSH (workplace, safety and health) Duties is a welcome move as it would provide clearer guidance to company leaders on how to provide more effective safety leadership.

Employers who blatantly disregard workplace safety must be kept away from society and workers.

To add more legislative bite to the Acop, the Companies Act should be amended to include the disqualification of company directors for up to five years if they have failed in discharging their WSH duties or are convicted of an offence under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

There is also a need to consider a company’s turnover when determining the maximum fine for WSH breaches.

It should not be cheaper for companies to offend than to spend more of their revenue to protect their workers.

When taking on more revenue, companies have a duty to correspondingly budget for more workers to address WSH risks, instead of over-stretching their current workforce and WSH personnel. Over-stretched workers, who are under unreasonable deadlines, tend to take shortcuts, resulting in higher risk of accidents happening.

For a first-time conviction under Section 50 of the WSH Act, the maximum financial penalty is S$200,000 and S$500,000 for natural persons and corporate bodies respectively.

These amounts have remained unchanged since 2006 when the Act came into effect.

It is perhaps an opportune time to review whether the amounts are an effective deterrent, especially for "financially large" companies and handsomely paid directors.

WSH penalties should be modelled similarly to the new “increased-penalty” provisions under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) which will take effect on Oct 1.

Under the new provisions, companies that breach the PDPA may face increased financial penalties of up to S$1 million or 10 per cent of their turnover (where the annual turnover in Singapore exceeds S$10 million), whichever is higher. 

Protection of workers’ lives cannot be less important than the protection of personal data, and the financial penalty for safety lapses must reflect this.

With stronger leadership and commitment from top management, combined with concerted efforts from all other stakeholders, it would be hard for workplaces not to become safer and healthier to work in.

 

Have views on this issue or a news topic you care about? Send your letter to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.

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workplace safety workplace accidents

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