ASG Melvin Yong Raises Concerns About High Workplace Fatality Numbers in Parliament

MOM responds with how the Government is taking steps to curb the numbers.
By Ian Tan Hanhonn 06 Jul 2022

This story was updated on 8 July 2022.

In the first six months of 2022, there was a total of 28 workplace fatalities in Singapore. Then on 7 July 2022, a 35-year-old Indian worker was killed in a forklift accident at his worksite in Keat Hong Link, bringing the year's total number of fatalities to 29.

In contrast, the total number of workplace fatalities for the first half of the year between 2017 to 2019 reflected a more positive image, with numbers hovering between 19, 20, and 17 respectively.

In the first half of 2020, the number fell further to 16, but that was likely due to work stoppages when the Government implemented its Circuit Breaker measures between 3 April to 1 June 2020.

Following 2022’s dismal fatality numbers in the first six months, several members of parliament raised concerns over workplace safety on 04 July 2022.

Among them were NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong. On the unusually high fatality numbers this year, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said in a written response that most of the accidents “were due to preventable safety lapses such as inadequate control measures or lack of adherence to safe work procedures.”

According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), 80 per cent of fatalities this year occurred in industries with higher-risk work settings, with 10 fatalities in construction, five in transport and storage, and four each in marine and manufacturing respectively.

Dr Tan added that while the year’s accidents have occurred across companies of different sizes, majority took place within SMEs.

Deterrence Through Harsher Penalties

Dr Tan urged for a concerted effort from both company leaders and workers to ensure that all workers have the right to a safe and conducive workplace.

He added that all workers, including migrant workers, are strongly encouraged to report unsafe workplace conditions or actions to their employers, or directly to MOM.

MOM will meanwhile continue to step up its inspections at worksites and impose harsher penalties on companies with poor workplace safety and health performance.

On 14 June 2022, MOM introduced stiffer penalties such as doubling the composition fine quantum.

It also made mandatory for companies that have been issued Stop Work Orders (SWO) or whose workers have had major injuries to engage external auditors to conduct a review of their safety processes.

Mr Yong, who is also the NTUC Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Secretariat Director, however believes that harsher penalties – in isolation – can only go so far in deterring poor workplace safety and health practices.

Speaking outside of parliament, he said: “To truly make WSH practices more pervasive, every company should have a WSH representative, regardless of size and industry, so that WSH is placed at the top of every organisation’s priority.

“Besides stiffer financial penalties and enhanced enforcement measures, we should perhaps require the directors and senior management of companies found to have poor workplace safety performance to attend WSH training.”

Beyond representation and training, Mr Yong added that procurement practices can also be changed to allow companies with good WSH track records to bid for high-risk projects.

Following the most recent workplace fatality, Mr Yong took to Facebook to urge employers not to compromise on safety as workplaces progressively reopen and work volume increases.

He wrote: "Companies must implement a policy for workers to have the ability to raise and stop unsafe work practices without reprisal so everyone can look out for the safety of one another on site."

Giving his views on harsher penalties, Air Liquide Construction Manager Don Theseira believes that fines do little to enhance workplace safety, and that SWOs are more effective at driving change.

He said: “Fines do not have a lasting effect; most companies will just pay the fine and carry on with their work.

“However, having a time-out of say a week and putting work on hold will make employers ‘wake-up their idea’. During that time-out, companies can make use of the time to retrain their workers and review what went wrong.”