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As pollution levels enter the ‘unhealthy’ range in Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has updated its haze guidelines. Here’s what employers need to know.
What haze index should employers monitor
With air quality having an impact on employee health, it is crucial for employers to keep an eye on the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) forecast on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website or the Haze website.
According to the NEA, if the PSI reaches ‘unhealthy’ levels (more than 100), various precautions should be taken.
Employers should take note that the PSI fluctuates throughout a work day and factor this into their risk assessments.
Workplace measures to mitigate the impact of haze on workers
During this period where the 24-hour PSI is in the ‘unhealthy’ levels, employers should first carry out proper risk assessments of various work activities taking into account the impact of the haze, individual employee’s health, work demands and fatigue, etc.
In line with that, the appropriate measures should be implemented to ensure risks identified are minimised or mitigated.
Measures that can be implemented include:
- Using mechanical aids (e.g. trolleys, hoists) to transport or carry heavy objects instead of manual lifting or carrying.
- Adjusting work assignments or rotate jobs to shorten the time spent in outdoor work.
- Scheduling sufficient indoor rest breaks for workers performing outdoor work.
- Ensuring adequate hydration for workers.
- Monitoring employees’ health by encouraging feedback on any symptoms that may occur.
- Deferring non-essential work.
When to use masks and where to get them
If prolonged or strenuous outdoor work is not avoidable at higher PSI, suitable masks (e.g. N95 masks) should be provided.
For example, for particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), the correct type of mask is one which is capable of filtering out about 95% of very fine particles, such as N95 mask or equivalent.
The MOM recommends the usage of N95 masks or equivalent for protection of outdoor workers at lower PSI than for the general public as work commitments may require prolonged outdoor exposure or strenuous work on a regular basis.
If N95 masks are used, employers and employees should note that these increase the effort of breathing. This may cause discomfort in breathing, tiredness or headache in some employees due to their masks causing increased resistance to breathing, and a reduction in the volume of air breathed.
Employees who need to wear masks / respirators should be fit-tested to ensure good fit and employers should ensure sufficient stock of masks / respirators for employees, and conduct training and supervision to ensure correct usage.
Masks should be changed when soiled / physically damaged or when the wearer finds it hard to breathe. Elderly and pregnant employees as well as those with chronic heart / lung disease should consult their treating doctors on the usage of masks.
Masks are available at major supermarkets, such as NTUC Fairprice and Cold Storage, and at pharmacies such as Guardian, Watsons and Unity.
What to do when employees need to take leave arising from the haze
MOM strongly encourages employers to adopt a flexible and enlightened approach in granting time-off or leave, or allowing employees to use flexible work arrangements to minimise work disruptions.
For employees who have used up their paid annual leave/sick leave entitlements, employers could consider granting them advance leave or other leave arrangements. In such situations, the employees’ wages should not be deducted.
In situations where the employer has decided to temporarily suspend operations, the employer should bear the costs of doing so and should not deduct from the wages or leave entitlements of the affected employees. When required, the affected employees should be on standby and ready to return to work.
Additionally, employers are encouraged to discuss with their employees, and union representatives, to come up with a mutual agreement on the appropriate leave and flexible work arrangements to be adopted.
What penalties will employers face if MOM’s guidelines are not followed?
Under the Workplace Safety & Health Act (WSH Act), employers have a duty to protect their employees’ safety and health at work. This includes adequately mitigating the risks posed by the haze to the safety and health of workers, by taking reference from the guidelines.
Failure to do so, may result in enforcement actions by the MOM under the WSH Act, which includes stop work orders, fines, etc.
Are employees eligible for work injury compensation?
Under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), employees who sustain an illness or injury arising out of and in the course of employment is eligible to claim work injury compensation from their employer.
Employers should notify MOM through WSH Incident Reporting if any employee has sustained an illness/injury due to working outdoors during the haze.
Where the employee is able to recover over time and resume work without permanent ill effects, employers should pay any medical leave wages and medical expenses due directly to the employee.
What to do when the 24-hour PSI reaches ‘hazardous’ levels
In hazardous haze situations (when 24-hour PSI exceeds 300), minimising outdoor work and deferring non-essential work and other haze mitigation measures should remain the primary consideration. However, when outdoor work is unavoidable, suitable masks or respirators should be provided.
When the 24-hour PSI exceeds 400, non-essential work should be deferred. An N95 mask which has a protection factor (PF) of 10, may not provide workers with sufficient respiratory protection. Hence, if outdoor work is unavoidable, respirators with higher PF should be considered. This includes respirators with a PF of 50 or full face respirators. Powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) with full-face can also be used for greater comfort.
Companies should identify and estimate the number of workers who are required to perform prolonged work when PSI exceeds 400, as these workers would require fit-testing and training on the use of the respirators. Companies would need to ensure that sufficient numbers of the respirators are available.
Workers who need to wear respirators at work are required to undergo a medical assessment for fitness to use respirators. Workers with certain medical conditions such as lung problems may not be medically fit to use respirators.
Where other Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) such as safety helmets, eye protectors, hearing protectors or protective clothing are used, care should be taken to ensure that the protection offered by the PPE is not compromised. Respirator selection should include an assessment of the effect of its use on other PPEs.
According to MOM’s guidelines, the suppliers for full-face respirators include 3M, Draeger, Honeywell, MSA, Scott Safety, Sundstrom, and more.
- ‘Prolonged’ work refers to work with continuous exposure for several hours.
- ‘Strenuous’ work is defined as work involving a lot of energy or effort.
- Activities that are considered ‘unavoidable’ include critical and essential work such as security, utilities and maintenance, logistics and supply, and waste management..
- For additional details on use and maintenance of respiratory protective devices, refer to the Singapore Standard SS 548:2009: Code of Practice for Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective devices.