Singapore toilet ranking contest among suggestions from MPs during debate on new public hygiene Bill

The Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill, passed in Parliament on Oct 5, 2020, tightens cleaning requirements, and includes other hygiene-related measures. — TODAY file pic
The Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill, passed in Parliament on Oct 5, 2020, tightens cleaning requirements, and includes other hygiene-related measures. — TODAY file pic

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SINGAPORE, Oct 6 — There could be an annual contest where the public may vote for the top three venues with the best toilets into a “Hall of Fame”, and the worst three venues with the dirtiest toilets into a “Hall of Shame”.

This suggestion from Poh Li San, Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang Group Representation Constituency (GRC), came up during a debate in Parliament on the Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill that was passed yesterday.

Twelve MPs rose to speak during the debate, raising concerns such as whether business owners and operators will have to incur more costs when complying with the recent Covid-19 regulations.

They also addressed the need to raise labour standards in the cleaning industry, and how a mindset shift is needed to complement the new laws, to ensure that public hygiene becomes a social responsibility shared by all Singaporeans.

Outlining the key thrusts of the Bill before it was passed, Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, said that the amendments aim to:

● Guard against public health threats

● Improve sanitation standards by setting daily cleaning frequencies at high-risk premises and imposing penalties on those who do not comply with these standards

● Enhance the skills of sanitation workers

They also seek to strengthen regulations on hygiene standards of water-based facilities such as pools and water fountains.

The changes to the law are also in line with the SG Clean movement, “by clarifying lines of accountability for maintaining clean premises, and setting clear standards expected of premises owners”, Fu said.

The SG Clean movement — a campaign that calls on the public to adopt good personal and environmental hygiene habits — was launched earlier this year to raise public hygiene standards.

The amendments

Under the new laws, the main requirements for the maintenance of high risk premises are:

● Daily cleaning frequencies for high-touch surfaces such as toilets and lift buttons, oft-neglected areas such as bin centres and areas that are not easily accessible, a pest management plan, and a cleaning and disinfection protocol

● Environmental control coordinators (ECCs) and environmental control officers (ECOs), who are under the charge of the premises manager, are to develop these sanitation programmes for the premises

● That the manager of the specified premises must endorse and submit an environmental sanitation programme to the director-general (public health) of the National Environment Agency (NEA), implement the programme and any remedial measures recommended by the ECC or ECO

● The director-general can conduct compliance checks to ensure that the sanitation regime is properly implemented, and the manager will be responsible for any failure to execute the programme

● This regime will be rolled out from mid-2021, starting with higher-risk premises with immuno-vulnerable occupants, high footfall or a history of outbreaks, such as preschools, eldercare facilities, hawker centres and coffee shops.

The penalties for non-compliance are:

● The director-general can refuse to register an individual for the roles of ECC and ECO, and stipulate the circumstances for suspension and cancellation of registration, although applicants can appeal to the authorities against the decisions

● The director-general can also issue directives to close any premises, clean or disinfect the premises or any public service vehicle, or take any other necessary measure to prevent or manage health risks

Workers can upskill by:

● Tapping a two-tiered competency framework that provides a pipeline for competent ECCs and ECOs

● Premises such as a preschool or a coffee shop will require an ECC while more complex or multi-tenanted premises will require an ECO, who can coordinate efforts among different tenants within the premises

● This will provide a career progression pathway for ECCs to become ECOs, as they gain experience and upgrade their skills to take on more responsibilities

● About 3,800 ECCs are expected to be trained from the first quarter next year

Hygiene standards of water-based facilities will be tightened by:

● Extending the Environmental Public Health Act licensing regime to more categories of aquatic facilities, such as multi-use spa pools and water playgrounds. Right now, swimming pools are the only type of aquatic facilities that have to be licensed under this regime

● This will require the owner or occupier of any premises with an aquatic facility to obtain a licence from the director-general, before its use or operation

● This also requires the owner or occupier of any premises with an aerosol-generating system — such as cooling towers — to register with the director-general

What Members of Parliament say

MPs such as Louis Ng of Nee Soon GRC, and Desmond Choo of Tampines GRC raised the need to improve labour conditions in the cleaning sector, including ensuring that workers are paid fairly for their work.

Responding to them, Fu said that all cleaning businesses are required to provide wages stipulated under the Progressive Wage Model.

With the enhancements to the wage model, real median monthly gross wages of full-time resident cleaners have increased by 26 per cent from 2014 to 2019, she said, higher than the workforce’s median increase of 21 per cent.

She added that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has worked with its tripartite partners to encourage business operators to provide rest areas for outsourced workers such as cleaners.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, MOM and NEA have also advised service buyers and providers to ensure the safety and health of cleaners, manage their workload and remunerate them appropriately for added responsibilities, she said.

Most of the MPs also emphasised that the new regulations must be complemented with a mindset change where public hygiene is seen as a social responsibility by all Singaporeans, rather than expect low-wage cleaners to “do the job”.

For example, He Ting Ru, Workers’ Party MP of Sengkang GRC, pointed to countries such as Japan, Switzerland and Taiwan where the citizens have high levels of social consciousness and do their part to maintain the cleanliness of their surroundings.

Agreeing, Fu said that building shared responsibility is a key thrust of the SG Clean movement.

She added that the authorities have also been exploring the use of behavioural science approaches to get Singaporeans to form the needed habits.

For example, NEA has piloted the use of visual and audio cues to nudge users to return their trays at hawker centres. — TODAY

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