Mr Leon Perera asked the Minister for Manpower (a) over the past five years, what is the annual number of complaints lodged with the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) reporting hotline, broken down by those lodged by (i) employees (ii) employers and (iii) members of the public; and (b) whether the data reveals any relationship between the number of complaints received and the number of enforcement checks conducted, and potential WSH lapses discovered.
43 Ms Joan Pereira asked the Minister for Manpower (a) how many reports have the reporting channels for unsafe workplace acts, such as SNAP@MOM and the Occupational Safety and Health Hotline, received in the last 12 months; (b) what recourse is there for vulnerable foreign workers who are made to work without safety protection by recalcitrant employers; and (c) whether a fundamental workplace safety review will be carried out.
44 Mr Leon Perera asked the Minister for Manpower (a) over the past five years, what is the annual number of complaints lodged with the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) reporting hotline, broken down by those lodged by (i) employees (ii) employers and (iii) members of the public; and (b) whether the data reveals any relationship between the number of complaints received and the number of enforcement checks conducted, and potential WSH lapses discovered.
45 Mr Melvin Yong Yik Chye asked the Minister for Manpower (a) whether there are common contributing factors that lead to the workplace accidents; (b) whether there has been an increase in workplace accidents following the easing of COVID-19 safe management measures at the workplace; and (c) whether the Ministry plans to enhance workplace safety at all high-risk worksites and, if so, how.
Dr Tan See Leng: In the first six months of 2022, there has been a worrying spate of 28 workplace fatalities, compared to 17 during the same period in pre-COVID 2019.
Falls from heights and vehicular incidents alone accounted for half of these fatalities. Based on the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) preliminary investigations, most of these accidents were due to preventable safety lapses such as inadequate control measures or lack of adherence to safe work procedures. 80% of fatalities this year occurred in industries with higher-risk work settings, with 10 fatalities in Construction, five in Transport and Storage (T&S), and four each in Marine and Manufacturing respectively. While these accidents happened across companies of different sizes, majority had occurred in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
All of the accidents involved workers with at least two years of working experience and therefore inexperience is unlikely to be a contributory factor. For cases where other co-workers were involved, all of the co-workers had at least three years of working experience.
Over the past five years, MOM received around 2,400 to 3,800 reports a year on unsafe acts in workplace from various channels such as the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) hotline, eFeedback on MOM’s website and referrals from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and unions. These reports were mainly made by members of the public and complainants who chose to remain anonymous. MOM takes every report seriously. MOM assesses each feedback, inspects the workplace where needed, and ensures that the company makes the required rectifications. Where egregious lapses are found, MOM takes enforcement actions against the company. Around 84% of inspections conducted following reports of unsafe acts in the past 12 months resulted in enforcement actions taken, including fines and stop work orders.
All workers, including migrant workers, are strongly encouraged to report unsafe workplace conditions or acts to their supervisors or employers, or directly to MOM. Workers may also approach union leaders or NGOs such as the Migrant Workers Centre, who will work with their employers to make the appropriate rectifications or direct the feedback to MOM for follow up. The identities of whistle blowers are kept confidential. Employers are also not permitted to dismiss or threaten to dismiss workers who have reported workplace safety and health issues and MOM will take action if they are reported to have done so.
Employers must do their part, as required under the law. MOM has been taking stronger enforcement actions and has introduced stiffer penalties against errant employers, which includes fines and/or imprisonment for company leaders. For example, earlier this year, Leedon National Oxygen Ltd was fined $340,000 for failing to take measures to ensure the safety and health of its employees at work, while its CEO and its former director in charge of safety were each fined $45,000.
To strengthen WSH ownership and accountability of company leaders, MOM is developing a new Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) for Company Directors’ WSH Duties, to provide clarity and practical guidance on how to fulfil their legal obligations. Companies’ compliance to the ACOP or lack thereof can be used by the Courts to take action against company leaders and its board of directors in the event of a WSH Act offence.
The Government takes a strong position on safety in its procurement. Today, safety is part of the evaluation criteria for public sector’s construction tenders and some public sector developers also disqualify contractors with poor work practices. We are developing a harmonised disqualification criteria across all public sector’s construction tenders to disqualify contractors with poor work practices. We are also reviewing the current demerit points system to take a tougher stand on breaches under the WSH Act or Regulations to debar errant contractors from participating in public sector contracts and from hiring foreign employees. I encourage the private sector and members of the public to also shape your procurement policies to hire firms with strong safety track records, by checking firms’ WSH performance on CheckSafe on MOM’s website.
MOM will continue to step up its inspections at worksites and impose harsher penalties on companies with poor workplace safety and health performance. Between January and June 2022, MOM conducted more than 3,500 inspections in the higher-risk sectors such as Construction, Marine and Manufacturing, 35% more than the same period last year.
MOM took enforcement action for more than 9,000 breaches under the WSH Act and Regulations, and issued more than 50 Stop Work Orders, a two-fold increase compared to the same period last year. Since 14 June 2022, MOM has introduced stiffer penalties such as doubling the composition fine quantum, and requiring companies that have been issued Stop Work Orders or have had major injuries to engage external auditors to conduct a thorough review of their WSH processes.
To strengthen WSH practices on the ground and improve WSH oversight, MOM is reviewing the coverage of WSH personnel such as WSH Auditors, Officers and Coordinators. MOM is also looking to institutionalise pre-start assessments, such as weekly site coordination meetings and daily toolbox meetings to coordinate works across sub-contractors, eliminate incompatible works, highlight potential hazards and implement control measures. Given that technology is an enabler to detect and prevent workplace accidents, MOM has been working with Government Procurement Entities to include suitable WSH technologies as part of the specifications for some public sector’s construction tenders. Companies are strongly encouraged to implement WSH technologies, such as surveillance cameras or closed-circuit television.
Ensuring workplace safety and health requires the concerted effort of all company leaders and workers. MOM, together with the WSH Council, National Trade Union Congress and industry partners had earlier called for an industry Safety Time-Out for companies to review their WSH management systems, including risk assessments, risk control measures, and relevant WSH training, and for companies and workers to learn from the recent fatal accidents.
The WSH Council also works closely with industry associations and companies, particularly SMEs, to strengthen their risk management processes through the bizSAFE programme. To date, more than 40,000 SMEs have benefited from the programme. MOM and the WSH Council will do more to engage SMEs to build up their WSH capabilities.
We have made good progress on WSH from a decade ago, reducing workplace fatal injury rate from 2.1 per 100,000 workers in 2012 to 1.1 per 100,000 workers in 2021. As at end 2021, we were on track to meeting our WSH 2028 workplace fatal injury rate of less than 1.0 per 100,000 workers, achieved by only four OECD countries. These are high standards that we set for ourselves. We are committed to strengthening our WSH framework to make managements and boards more accountable for WSH safety, enhancing our training and capability support, and tightening our enforcement regime including stronger penalties and debarment for unsafe companies.
I urge all companies to take time to review your WSH processes, use the WSH Alerts on the learning points from recent fatalities to reinforce the importance of safety to your workers, and implement the necessary control measures. MOM together with the WSH Council, will continue to work closely with industry associations, employers and workers.
Ministry of Manpower
4 July 2022