The Labour Movement has proposed action areas to improve workplace safety and health.
Labour Member of Parliament Melvin Yong gave the proposal at an adjournment motion in Parliament on 1 August 2022 to address the spike in workplace accidents.
Mr Yong, an NTUC Assistant Secretary-General, said the Labour Movement is deeply concerned with the issue.
“COVID-19 seems to have undone all the hard work” Singapore has achieved in workplace safety, according to Mr Yong.
He said the increase in workplace accidents seen in 2021 was due to companies rushing to clear a backlog of work caused by the pandemic.
The trend became worse this year.
There were 31 workplace deaths in 2022 so far, more than the 30 in 2020.
The latest death happened on 20 July 2022, involving a 55-year-old Singaporean worker who died after he fell off a boat in Pulau Brani.
Mr Yong called for a better whistleblowing channel.
The Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) recent investigations revealed that unsafe, unsupervised workplace practices that led to fatalities have continued for some time.
Some workers said their supervisors did not take action even when unsafe practices were reported.
Mr Yong added that a whistleblowing channel would ensure the anonymity of those who reported such poor workplace practices, even if they are from the public.
MOM currently has a channel to report workplace infringes.
Through the channel, a person can remain anonymous to the party they are making a report against. But MOM still requires the identity of the person making the report.
While he acknowledged the recent efforts of the Government to address the spike in workplace accidents, Mr Yong believes that these actions alone are not enough.
He hopes that the Government will partner with the unions in the workplace safety inspection process.
“Having union leaders will add an element of moral suasion to MOM’s inspections and help convince workers and supervisors alike to pay more attention to workplace safety,” he explained.
He pointed out that more than 1,000 union leaders have completed the workplace safety and health (WSH) course.
Mr Yong also urged MOM to make WSH training mandatory for all workers in high-risk sectors.
He added that companies must ensure that the work environment is safe, and workers should also be equipped with the proper safety equipment and be trained and certified to perform the activity.
He iterated that NTUC LearningHub is ready to continually offer training courses to all workers to refresh their WSH knowledge.
Mr Yong called for minimum rest hours for workers working in high-risk sectors to be legislated.
He cited workplace accidents that occurred even to experienced staff struggling to catch up on a backlog of work.
He explained: “This just goes to show that even the most experienced of workers can fall victim, if tiredness seeps in and causes a momentary lapse in concentration.”
Additionally, Mr Yong believes that buy-in and acceptance from companies’ higher management are vital for safety at the workplace.
“The culture at the top shapes practices on the ground,” he said.
Mr Yong also asked the manpower minister for an update of the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) for Company Director’s WSH Duties and when it will be ready.
MOM is currently developing the ACOP, through which authorities can hold the companies’ higher management accountable for upkeeping safety standards.
In response to Mr Yong, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that the ACOP will be ready by the end of 2022.
With this, Mr Yong also wants the code made into law to have “legislation teeth”.
To reduce the adoption costs of new WSH technologies, Mr Yong called for MOM to elevate its WSH Institute into a national Centre of Excellence (COE).
COEs aim to build up research and development and provide companies with the tools for business success.
Technology has matured to help predict risks at the workplace, but the adoption costs may deter small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), said Mr Yong.
He added that turning the WSH Institute into a COE will facilitate the deployment of technology in SMEs to improve workplace safety.