SINGAPORE, June 24 — The Ministry of Manpower (MoM) is reviewing the demerit points system for breaches under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, amid a “worrying” spike in deaths at construction and other worksites this year. The number of safety officers on construction sites is also being reviewed.

Speaking at the Singapore Contractors Association’s (Scal's) annual Safety and Health Campaign event on Thursday (June 23), Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said that the review of the demerit points system would lead to “safer construction companies” having better business opportunities.

“The unsafe firms will be disqualified from competing with you for government contracts, or will have a tougher time getting foreign manpower because they have more demerit points,” he said. Also up for review is the number of workplace safety and health (WSH) personnel such as WSH auditors, officers and coordinators who are stationed at worksites to improve safety oversight. “The current regime has been in place for more than a decade and it is timely to review the requirements,” said Dr Tan. “Having more WSH personnel on the ground will help contractors to better manage WSH onsite.” A timeline of the reviews and the exact changes are still being ironed out. The number of workplace fatalities this year has reached 27, with the latest workplace death occurring on Wednesday after a 32-year-old migrant worker was crushed between crane parts. Dr Tan said that that the spike in fatalities is “worrying”.

“This is very troubling because it is close to double that of the same period in 2019,” he said. “This is of great concern. Every life lost to a workplace accident is one life too many.” He also provided a breakdown of the fatalities: Among the 27 deaths, 10 were in construction, of which six were from smaller construction firms or projects.

“Smaller firms” are classed as companies with a total workforce of fewer than 100 workers.

“My exhortation to everyone is that we must not leave out such firms and must work hard to engage them to improve their WSH standards too,” said Dr Tan.

“We must make sure we do everything we can to prevent the loss of lives and make sure that our workers can return home safely to their loved ones.”

Construction firms welcome potential changes but say more can be done

Construction firm bosses said that they share Dr Tan's sentiments and shock at the number of workplace deaths this year, adding that beyond implementing more rules and manpower to oversee safety, a “cultural shift” is also needed on the ground.

Yung Keng Cheong, corporate safety director at China Communications Construction, said that measures such as penalising firms with more demerit points will “definitely put more pressure on the companies to perform better in terms of the safety performance because it will affect the overall tendering of projects and profitability in the long run”.

However, he said that any changes appear set to affect only firms vying for government projects, and may not affect firms with private projects.

For the review on the safety personnel on the ground, Yung said that while it would be good to have more WSH officers on the ground, it is also important to enhance training for existing supervisors and workers.

“The supervisers themselves who are giving tasks to the workers, they themselves must be the one who will look after their workers' safety,” he said. “That is key, where line function (those involved in on-the-ground operations) takes a more active role instead of a safety professional doing the work for them.”

Agreeing, Daniel Ng, chief operating officer at Aegde Group, an engineering services firm which specialises in work from heights, said that each employee, from worker to supervisor, has to take the “culture of safety” into their own hands, rather than rely on incentives or disincentives.

“Safety rules can sometimes be very cost-intensive and can be very time consuming... but the more the company becomes aware, they will be part of a (safety) culture,” said Ng.

“The culture is the part that takes a long time for the ministry or Scal to promote... it is not just a carrot and stick (approach).” ― TODAY