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MOM instructs Singapore employers to conduct Safety Time-Out amidst increased workplace fatalities

MOM instructs Singapore employers to conduct Safety Time-Out amidst increased workplace fatalities

Companies must do so by 15 September 2022 and, If found non-compliant, risk being debarred from employing new foreign workers for one month. Full updates here.

On Thursday (1 September 2022), Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) introduced a slate of new measures to strengthen workplace safety and health (WSH) and improve WSH oversight, especially in higher risk sectors.

These new measures and a six-month state of 'Heightened Safety' is needed in view of the concerning rise in workplace fatalities this year," the ministry said in a press release.

As of 1 September 2022, Singapore has recorded 36 workplace fatalities for 2022. "This is very close to the 37 fatalities recorded in the whole of 2021," MOM said.

In view of this, the ministry said it will "work together with and support companies in taking greater ownership" of WSH in the period of 'Heightened Safety', which may be extended if necessary.

For companies that fall short on safety, MOM will increase the accountability of these companies and their senior management. The ministry will implement the following measures to complement ongoing efforts:

#1 Introduce the six-month 'Heightened Safety' period from 1 September 2022 to 28 February 2023

  • During this period, if MOM finds serious WSH lapses such as unsafe workplace conditions or poor risk controls following serious or fatal workplace accidents, it may debar companies from employing new foreign employees for up to three months and require chief executives to personally account to MOM and take responsibility for rectifications.
  • Companies are required to conduct a mandatory Safety Time-Out (STO) by allocating time to review their safety procedures and complete the STO activities. The length of the STO should be sufficiently long to review risks corresponding to the scale of operations. Companies must conduct the STO between 1 September 2022 and 15 September 2022. Companies will be debarred from employing new foreign employees for one month if found to be non-compliant with the STO. [Scroll below for a checklist on conducting an STO]
    • Ccompanies that need to operate 24/7 can choose to do the STO for different teams of workers separately, such that critical work can still proceed at all times, rather than for all workers to pause work.

#2 Strengthen support for SMEs who need help to improve their WSH practices and processes, through the expansion of StartSAFE

Under the existing StartSAFE programme, SMEs have access to WSH consultants who can help companies identify WSH risks and implement good WSH practices. The costs of the WSH consultants are fully borne by MOM.

The ministry is encouraging more companies to apply for StartSAFE as a follow-up to the STO safety reviews.

#3 Introduce targeted measures for the construction sector from 1 October 2022

  • First, is a new harmonised set of disqualification criteria across all public sector construction tenders to align the evaluation criteria and temporarily disqualify contractors with poor WSH performance from participating in these tenders;
  • Next, is a revised demerit point system, where the threshold for issuing demerit points will be lowered. This means that more demerit points will be issued for WSH Act breaches and errant companies with consistently poor WSH performance will reach the penalty thresholds more quickly, after which they will be debarred from hiring foreign employees for up to two years.

#4 Set up of a multi-sectoral workplace safety taskforce, advised by an external experts panel

Comprising representatives from key government agencies, this new taskforce will conduct sectoral deep dives into work practices and industry structures to strengthen safety practices and outcomes. The taskforce will be able to tap on ideas and advice from an external experts panel, comprising industry representatives and WSH consultants. Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Zaqy Mohamad, will chair the taskforce, and MOM will share more details on this at a later date. 

Agencies involved will include:

  • the Ministry of National Development,
  • the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, 
  • the Ministry of Transport, and
  • the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

MOM is urging all employers and supervisors to place the utmost priority on the safety of their workers. "All workers must also follow safety procedures, watch out for unsafe workplace practices, and bring them to the attention of supervisors and MOM.

"MOM understands that as the economy recovers, there will be pressure to meet project timelines, but safety cannot take a backseat. We will support companies who seek to strengthen workplace safety, and will not hesitate to take action against companies with serious safety lapses and those found to be at fault for major workplace injuries and deaths."

In the same vein, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong affirmed in a Facebook post that management, workers, and unions must work closely to bring down the number of workplace accidents and fatalities. "NTUC calls on all companies, big or small, to take immediate steps to carry out a comprehensive appraisal of their risk assessment and enhance risk controls at the workplace. We also urge every company to set up a WSH committee involving management, workers and unions, to work together and proactively track, review, and enhance WSH measures."

The last time MOM called for a Safety Time-Out was in May this year, when Singapore had recorded 20 workplace fatalities.

Checklist: How to conduct a Safety Time-Out

MOM ha shared the following checklist which serves to guide companies on the steps to take to review
and improve WSH systems and work processes. Companies are encouraged to take additional measures beyond those listed.

This checklist, MOM added, can be applied to any industry, but also features items that focus on vehicular-related risks, as close to half of the fatal accidents in the past three months were vehicular related. 

For top management:

  • Personally do a walkabout 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.
  • [For occupiers] Instruct all contractors and sub-contractors at the worksite to also perform the STO with their workers.

For WSH personnel and supervisors:

  • Update Risk Assessment with new risks and control measures, especially for vehicular-related risks and those from past accidents as outlined in the WSH Alerts.
  • Conduct workshops or meetings with workers to recap site safety and how they can uphold good WSH standards.
  • Ensure that all workers are briefed on key risks and follow safe work procedures, especially for any new risks identified in the Risk Assessment.
  • Confirm that personnel are adequately trained before being assigned work.
  • Check that machinery/equipment/vehicles are used properly in the way they have been designed (e.g. no overloading, no ferrying of workers or hanging loads on forklift forks, no use of vehicles as step platforms or ladders).
  • Check that there is a clear demarcation between workers and vehicular movement, and that all workers comply with the demarcation.
  • Consider the need to install:
    • more convex mirrors or deploy additional signalmen/banksmen to eliminate vehicle blind spots;
    • more road humps to reduce vehicle speed, and
    • more barriers to keep workers and vehicles apart.
  • Check that all vehicle drivers/operators follow safety procedures for parking vehicles (e.g. engage parking brakes, install wheel chocks, especially when on slopes).
  • Check that loading and unloading activities are carried out on flat and stable ground, and that workers are not exposed to being struck by toppling loads.
  • Check that workers know how to secure loads without over-loading vehicles.
  • [After the STO] Compile and communicate the recommendations and action plans arising from the STO to top management and all workers.
  • [After the STO] Monitor the progress and effectiveness of STO follow-up actions.

More details in MOM's STO circular here.

Image / Shutterstock

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