Singapore companies urged to conduct a Safety Time-Out from 9 May 2022

This 9 May STO, which is expected to last two weeks, will have two main focus areas: working safely at heights such as working safely on fragile surfaces and safe use of ladders, as well as safe use of equipment such as forklifts.

Singapore's Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council, Ministry of Manpower, industry associations (listed below), and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) are rallying companies to conduct a Safety Time-Out (STO) from Monday, 9 May 2022. 

According to a joint press release on Sunday (8 May 2022), this comes in light of a recent "worrying spate of workplace fatalities across various industries" in Singapore, with 10 in April 2022 alone. This brings the total number of workplace fatalities in 2022 (Between 1 January and 6 May 2022) to 20, higher than the number of fatalities for the same period in 2016. 

Many of these cases, the press release stated, could have been prevented with basic safety and health measures.

Thus the call for an STO.

What is a Safety Time-Out, and how does it work?

As shared in the press release, an STO is a planned event whereby companies take time off from their daily work routine to take stock of and review WSH systems and work processes, and thereafter implement measures to control risk. It can be coordinated nationwide or sector-specific in response to an emerging trend or a spate of accidents.

In a typical STO, the STO team will review site practices and risk assessments by:

  1. Method - Assessing whether current WSH systems and procedures are in place or require improvements.
  2. Machine - Assessing the physical equipment or machinery are fit for the job.
  3. Man - Assessing the personnel competency for the job or whether refresher training is required.
  4. Action - Taking proactive measures to address the lapses identified so as to prevent accidents and losses.

Following this, employees should be briefed on the findings and any improvements that would be implemented.

What should be noted about the 9 May STO

This 9 May STO, which is expected to last two weeks, will have two main focus areas: working safely at heights such as working safely on fragile surfaces and safe use of ladders, as well as safe use of equipment such as forklifts.

Member companies and unions are encouraged to also enact the following specific measures:

For top management:

  • Do a walk-about on-site to encourage workers to report safety risks and near misses to their supervisors. Ask workers to surface their safety concerns, if any, and reassure them that they will not be penalised for doing so. Emphasise to the supervisors and site/project managers that they are responsible to resolve these risks.
  • Share learning points from recent fatal accidents from the WSH Alerts with all workers, to avoid a repeat of such cases in your own company.
  • Share resource kits on ladder accidents to make workers aware of high-risk activities that have led to a number of workplace deaths recently.

For WSH personnel:

  • Assign mentors to new workers, as those with less than three years of working experience in Singapore tend to be more accident-prone than their more experienced peers; guide them closely, especially in doing high-risk activities.
  • Identify any new risks that were not factored into the risk assessment, and devise control measures to mitigate these risks.
  • Ensure that the control measures in the company’s risk assessment are being implemented.
  • Hold workshops or meetings with employees to recap basic site safety, and how employees can play a part in upholding good WSH standards.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong shared a three-part STO checklist to guide employers in the above processes. "This checklist is made generic so that it can be applied to any industry sector during a Timeout. The list is by no means exhaustive and is meant to provide a broad framework to initiate more thought processes on your part during the Time-out."

View and download the checklist here

In addition to the above, the WSH Council will be organising an online STO forum, which will be broadcast on the WSH Council’s Facebook page in end-May. It will feature a sharing on the recent cases and learning points, as well as presentations by industry experts from various industries who will focus on topics such as safe use of forklifts, safe use of ladders, working around fragile surfaces, and safe boarding of vessels.

WSH Council Chairman John Ng said: "It is alarming and unfortunate that a number of this year’s fatal cases involved basic safety lapses. Furthermore, some of these accidents are similar to those that happened in 2021. This is why I strongly urge all companies to answer this STO call to review your processes, communicate with your workers, and implement necessary control measures to uphold good WSH standards, particularly in preventing falls from height, working around fragile surfaces, and the safe use of machinery such as forklifts."

Commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health and Divisional Director of MOM’s Occupational Safety and Health Division, Silas Sng, also commented: "Performing work activities that are routine and repetitive does not guarantee that accidents will not happen. We need all employers and employees to take WSH seriously and personally, and to implement the WSH measures before an accident occurs in your workplace."

Adding his views on Facebook, NTUC ASG Yong said: "We must remind one another that workplace safety is a collective responsibility. It takes a company-wide and individual effort to ensure that we and our workers can return home safely to their loved ones at the end of work each day. I hope our unions and companies can take the time to conduct the STO for the safety and interests of our workers because every worker matters, and every life matters."

Participating industry associations  

  1. Association of Process Industry
  2.  Association of Property and Facility Managers
  3. Association of Singapore Marine Industries
  4. Singapore Contractors Association Limited
  5. Singapore International Facility Management Association
  6. Singapore Logistics Association
  7. Singapore Manufacturing Federation

Background on the 20 fatalities between 1 January and 6 May 2022

Of the 20 fatal cases in 2022 so far, seven of them were similar in nature to cases that occurred in 2021: three cases involved forklifts, two involved falls from ladders, and two involved falls through fragile surfaces. Preliminary investigations revealed that a common factor among these fatalities was that basic safety and health control measures – such as the wearing of seat belts in forklifts, or fall protection gear while working at heights – were either inadequate or not in place at all. 

The last time the WSH Council called for a nationwide STO was on 25 June 2021, which lasted two weeks.

Image / NTUC ASG Melvin Yong's Facebook

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