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SINGAPORE: There were more than 9,000 workplace safety breaches that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) took enforcement action against in the first six months of 2022.

This was double the number of such breaches in the same period last year, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Monday (Jul 4) in response to parliamentary questions from three Members of Parliament (MPs) on workplace safety and health.

MP Melvin Yong (PAP-Radin Mas) asked if there was an increase in workplace accidents following the easing of COVID-19 safe management measures, and whether MOM plans to enhance safety at high-risk worksites.

MP Joan Pereira (PAP-Tanjong Pagar) and MP Leon Perera (WP-Aljunied) both wanted to know the number of reports of unsafe practices lodged through various official channels.

Ms Pereira also wanted to know what recourse there is for vulnerable foreign workers who are made to work without safety protection by “recalcitrant employers”.

There have been 28 workplace deaths in the first six months of this year, compared to 17 in the same period in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Tan said in his written answer.

Falls from heights and vehicular incidents accounted for half of these fatalities.

“Based on MOM’s 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,” said Dr Tan.

“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,” he added.

About 80 per cent of the workplace deaths this year were in industries with “higher-risk” work settings. There were 10 fatalities in the construction industry, five in the transport and storage sector, four in the marine sector and four in the manufacturing sector.

While these accidents happened across companies of different sizes, the majority had occurred in small- and medium-sized enterprises, he added.

Dr Tan said that MOM took enforcement action for more than 9,000 breaches under the Workplace Safety and Health Act and Regulations, and issued more than 50 stop-work orders, a two-fold increase compared to the same period last year.

Since Jun 14, 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 workplace safety and health processes.

The ministry said that between January and June this year, it conducted more than 3,500 inspections in the higher-risk sectors such as construction, marine and manufacturing – 35 per cent more than the same period last year.

Over the past five years, MOM received about 2,400 to 3,800 reports a year on unsafe acts in the workplace.

“MOM takes every report seriously. MOM assesses each feedback, inspects the workplace where needed, and ensures that the company makes the required rectifications,” Dr Tan said.

“Where egregious lapses are found, MOM takes enforcement actions against the company.”

About 84 per cent of inspections conducted following reports of unsafe acts in the past 12 months resulted in enforcement actions taken, including fines and stop-work orders.

Dr Tan encouraged all workers to report unsafe workplace conditions or acts to their supervisors or employers, or directly to MOM.

Workers may also approach union leaders or non-governmental organisations 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, Dr Tan said.

“The identities of whistleblowers 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,” he said.

To strengthen workplace safety and health practices on the ground and improve oversight, MOM is reviewing the coverage of safety personnel such as workplace safety and health 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,” said Dr Tan.