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In Focus Danger Zones- how workplace safety lapses are costing lives

IN FOCUS: Danger zones - how workplace safety lapses are costing lives- that's the title of the CNA opinion piece on workplace safety health in Singapore. This after 36 workers died on the job from 1 Jan 2022 to 31 Aug 2022. Compared to 37 deaths in 2021 and 30 deaths in 2019.

The report talks to workers and safety consultants who share their experiences on workplace safety while working on the ground working in higher-risk industries such as construction.

The article talks about - Time Pressures with a worker explaining how he fell off the scaffolding at a renovation site when it was raining. It also shared how Ministry of Manpower pushed out new slate of measures to boost workplace health and safety (WSH), and announced a state of “heightened safety” for the next six months. From banning companies from hiring new workers for up to 3 months to having mandatory safety time-out. Also the demerit point system for the construction sector will also be revised

The article shared how the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, projects coming back on line, lack of manpower/workers contributed to the issue of rising fatalities in workplace or the non-compliances of workplace safety health practices.

A consultant claimed that since companies stopped work for 2 and a half years, things could go wrong- such as machines not used or maintained, chemicals and materials expired, workers out of practice. The consultant also said "the accidents that occured this year are "nothing unusual". Which we will get to in a while.

This points to systemic issues that have been exacerbated by cost pressure, tighter deadlines and the manpower crunch on the ground.

Executive director of the Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) Bernard Menon called this a “perfect storm”. Where there are systemic issues that have been exacerbated by cost pressure, tighter deadlines and the manpower crunch on the ground.

“Migrant workers are such that if you get the opportunity to work overtime and earn more money, most migrant workers would take that opportunity, willingly.

Mr Yong Jian Rong, chairman of the WSH subcommittee of the Singapore Contractors’ Association Limited, said this well “The contractor is expected to work safely at all times but is not always rewarded when things are done in a safe manner.” "However, if the work is delayed, there is a high chance that penalties could be imposed on them"

This can translate to managers pressuring supervisors, supervisors rushing workers, and workers themselves not taking safety seriously, so as to expedite the work.

Mr Yong also pointed out that Singapore’s workforce in the construction sector is largely made up of foreign labour that constantly rotates every couple of years.

The article also quoted Mr Hasan Samim, an electrical and instrumental technician and site safety supervisor with Rotary Engineering, who said he has seen more new and inexperienced workers coming to Singapore after borders reopened.

One worker who the article spoke about claimed that workers have a fear of speaking up. He shared how no one helped him climb a ladder or issued him a safety harness even though its available. He claimed he knew it was wrong but no on spoke up.

He also shared how workers paid more than $4000 in recruitment fees to come to work here.

Mr Luke Tan, case manager at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), said that employers hold a lot of power over migrant workers because the recruitment costs are high and the workers go into debt to work here. And said this very correctly- “The more costs they incur, the more fear they will have,” he said.

Mr Tan also said that many companies took on too many projects or tried to cut costs by hiring too few workers and skimping on safety measures even before COVID-19.

The article also spoke about using technology to solve the problems including continuous monitoring.

Now we feel and have always felt this way.

1) Workers should not have to pay recruitment fees. When they pay recruitment fees, they feel afraid to speak up, afraid to go against even basic common sense. They fear upsetting their supervisors and their bosses. Because they owe so much money and cannot afford to lose their jobs.

2) Better Supervisors.

A good welder may not make a good welding supervisor. Just because there are some 4 day or 5 day supervisory courses out there doesn't mean someone now can supervise another person, give good instructions, manage the job properly. There must be a better way to equip people to lead others.

Look at our Uniformed Groups - SAF, SPF, SCDF. Look at how they develop leaders. There is proper structure, proper grooming, proper management

That said, spending time, effort and money grooming someone to become a leader is scary for companies- what if they leave in 1 month, what if they join the competitor, what if their passes cannot be renewed, what if they stop working entirely. It seems company bosses, managers, and senior personnel need to change their mindsets too.

3) Better Bosses

Bosses need to understand safety isn't a buzz word. They should look at safety as if its a quality issue. If you have a standard way to manufacture a product, if everyone follows the steps completely, you will have the product without defects. And when you ship it out, there will be no downtimes, no delays, no upset customers, no drama.

Safety should be that way too. People should work in a set standard way, not one thing written in their method statements and another thing on the ground- BUT that is happening now. Workers or personnel who solve problems on the fly are said to be good. Yet no one stops to think why didn't the method statement work.

There is a ONE BEST WAY.

4) Technology is and isn't the solution

Only greedy consultants who want to sell you technology will claim technology is the solution.

Your car has a seat belt warning indicator. If you don't wear your seat belt, alarms trigger. But there are many ways to by pass that. I can buckle the seat belt in and sit on it. I can buckle it and cut it. I can use a clip to loosen it.

There are CCTV cameras in condos, homes, shopping malls- does that mean there is no crime?

They help but they are NOT the solution. Only part.

5) Multi tasking

Even the article said- "an electrical and instrumental technician and site safety supervisor". Which is it? A technician or a Safety Supervisor? Would you like to see a Surgeon who also doubles up as the receptionist? Or a Lawyer who doubles up as a barrista? No

Then focus. The trouble with Singapore is that people are expected to have multiple roles and hats but it doesn't not work.

6) Better Training

What people learn and what they practice on workplaces are 2 different things. Now we have safety training and yet people go back to their workplaces and do other things.

And no the new Construction Safety modules are not a solution. Experiencing how a fall feels like, how a crushing experience feels like- will not solve anything.

Teach them to do their job in the correct manner. Look at their role and drill in the steps over and over again

7) Change in thinking

People making decisions or coming up with solutions need to listen and have a change in thinking. Maybe we need new people with new ideas

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