So far in 2022 between Jan to Jun this year we already saw 25 fatal workplace accidents. With 3 fatal workplace accidents happening just in 2 weeks. The fatal workplace accident numbers this year have already surpassed the 23 fatal workplace accidents in 2021.
Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised concerns and said that safety standards and practices seems to have slipped as the economy reopens. The number of workplace deaths thus far is far too many and not acceptable. That we have lost ground and must put this right.
Others are claiming that manpower shortages and tighter deadlines due to COVID-19 disruptions may have caused the recent spate of workplace accidents and fatalities. Our workplace safety health expert Mr Raj Singh with decades of consulting experience in Oil & Gas, Marine and Construction industries- agrees with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
As mentioned by Mr Yong Jian Rong (of Woh Hup) the chair of the workplace safety and health sub-committee of Singapore Contractors Association Limited “The aftermath of COVID-19 has led to tighter timelines, manpower shortages, unintended complacency of personnel and other contributing factors,”
There is pressure on developers, main-contractors and sub-contractors to get the work done and they are facing shortages as well as complacency or even competency issues- but all these can be resolved.
Mr Lim Boon Khoon, a consultant, questioned if workers have been sent for refresher training, which would be necessary after being away from worksites or having segregated teams and duties for some time due to COVID-19 safety rules.
Mr Raj Singh agrees that there is some need for training or refresher training but the issues may not just be the workers. Many companies in Singapore whether employing locals or foreign workers, do not believe in safety. Employees start work on the first day of employment. And this practice needs to change. Company bosses must start to understand that a skills craftsman has less safety or quality issues that some novice. Also the pressure of management asking workers to get the job done and the workers believing that training and actual workplace practices are separate. They may also be working longer hours and make mistakes in judgement.
The experts interviewed by the media then to believe that the re-opening of the economy has been a catalyst of workplace accidents. However there is more to it. What was the workforce last year compared to this year? Have there been less workplace inspections this year by authorities?
Mr Raj Singh also asks how have tenders or awarded tenders been handled. For example pre-covid may have required a sub-contractor to have 10 workers in a team and with certain PPE. But post covid have the awarded tenders reflected the need to have testing of workers, the additional dormitory costs, transport issues, PPE (Masks), sanitizing equipment etc.
If you award a contract a certain contract but now expect them to provide more items, they will have to find ways to "make it work". Where are they creating that short-cut?
Are developers including the government bodies willing to accept a higher cost of business?
Singapore has been known as "the race to the bottom".
Mr Raj also believes that there is no two-way communication between experts in the industry and the decision makers. It feels more of a "I tell you and you do". This approach does not create involvement or help companies at the lower end of the Culture Ladder to grow.
There is definitely more to be done. It has to be a collaborative approach. Lets see where this goes.