A “worrying” trend of increasing workplace fatalities has prompted the Ministry of Manpower to review and boost their enforcement and regulatory strategies for workplace health and safety.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower, Hawazi Daipi, responded to questions from West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har and Nominated Member of Parliament Associate Professor Eugene Tan, about their concerns over safety measures and company’s attitudes to health and safety on-site.

Since January this year, there have already been nine workplace fatalities – eight of which occurred in the construction industry.

Despite having made “steady improvement” since overhauling the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) framework in 2005 – which saw a 60% drop in injury rates between 2005 and 2012 – workplace injuries and deaths have been rising since mid-2013.

“In those six months, there were 22 construction workplace fatalities. This was twice as many fatalities compared to the first half of the year, and five more compared to the same period in 2012, said Daipi. “This worrying trend continued into 2014, with eight out of the nine workplace fatalities in January coming from the construction industry alone.”

Daipi said feedback from the industry indicates the spate of accidents could be due to companies rushing to complete construction jobs amid strong demand, and the tight labour workforce prompting companies to overstretch their demand.

To address these issues, Daipi said the Ministry would be looking at four strategies for enforcement and regulatory changes:

  • The Ministry will apply for stronger penalties for cases where there are serious breaches of the law. It will also ask for custodial sentences on individuals who have blatantly disregarded the law and press for maximum sentencing.
  • MOM will tighten the conditions for lifting of a Stop Work Order (SWO) to ensure companies resolve lapses through the effective implementation of their WSH management system. New conditions may include refresher training on key areas of weaknesses as well as re-audit of the WSH management system.
  • They will expand the scope of the Business Under Surveillance (BUS) Programme to more companies that require assistance to address serious weaknesses in their WSH management systems.
  • They will review and strengthen the Demerit Points System, which was introduced in 2000 to identify contractors with poor work practices and restrict their access to foreign manpower if there is no improvement in their safety records. Information on the changes will be released after the review is completed by the middle of this year.
“Workplace Safety and Health is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. “MOM will continue to work closely with the industry to raise WSH standards but we will take stern action against errant stakeholders.”