MOM also shared several initiatives to prevent overworking, such as the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council, which promotes the protection of workers to prevent fatigue.
Singapore's Ministry of Manpower has recently responded to parliamentary questions on various topics such as overworking, flexible work arrangements for caregivers, and mental first aid responders.
Possible workplace fatalities related to overwork
Firstly, on questions pertaining to overwork and its contribution to workplace fatalities, MOM prefaced its response by stating that each incidence of workplace fatality is investigated to determine any contributing cause. In case of suspected overwork, investigations even extend to include examination of the work schedules of deceased workers.
With these investigations, MOM had uncovered an average of five fatal cases per year, or 12% of total fatalities, where excessive work hours were suspected. However there is insufficient evidence to link long working hours or fatigue to any fatal workplace accidents, even so "investigators will continue to examine for possible links in every new case that comes up".
MOM further reminds employers to comply with the Employment Act (EA), or risk being prosecuted and fined up to S$5,000 for each offence. Particularly, workmen, earning up to S$4,500 per month, should not work more than 12 hours per day under the EA.
MOM also shared several initiatives in place to prevent the overwork culture. For example, the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council promotes the protection of workers to prevent fatigue through its Total WSH programme. Last year’s campaign emphasised care time for workers to take care of their safety and health.
Eldercare leave or FWAs: What's better for caregivers?
Firstly, noting that civil servants are not required to declare reasons for annual leave, they are, in fact, entitled to two days of parent care leave in addition to existing annual leave provisions. MOM noted that, between 2015 to 2020, close to half of civil servants utilised parent care leave. Amongst them, the average utilisation per officer was 1.5 to two days per year. As a whole, utilisation was broadly similar across married and single officers.
MOM currently does not have survey data on the need for eldercare leave on top of FWAs amongst working caregivers. Nevertheless, in focus group discussions conducted by MOH in 2018, working caregivers provided feedback that they preferred FWAs to leave provisions, as FWAs provided them greater flexibility and sustainability in meeting their caregiving needs.
Understanding this concern, tripartite partners have been working on increasing access to FWAs. From 2014 to 2019, the proportion of employers who offered at least one formal FWA on a regular and sustained basis rose from 47% to 53%. The proportion of employers who did so in 2020 further increased to close to eight in 10. Many employers are expected to continue doing so as FWAs become a more accepted way of working.
Enhancements to BizSAFE WSH training
Lastly, MOM spoke more on the inclusion of mental first aid responder and other practical skills, particularly in BizSAFE workplace safety and health training.
While there is already an existing WSH system, MOM will continue to enhance it to place more emphasis on workplace health, including mental health. For example, the WSH Council has enhanced the audit requirements for bizSAFE. By doing so, MOM aims to make it explicit that companies need to consider personal health risk factors and psychosocial hazards when conducting risk assessments. This includes assessing how mental health affects safety at work and how work affects workers’ mental health.
To further support companies in updating their approaches, the WSH Council has expanded the Code of Practice on Risk Management to provide clearer guidance. With this, organisations are encouraged to conduct mental health talks to educate employees on self-care tips, and conducting periodic surveys of employees' mental wellbeing. With the enhanced Code of Practice, bizSAFE training also provides examples of how to mitigate risks to mental wellbeing.
Furthermore, MOM reminds that there is also a range of existing support within the WSH Council’s Total WSH Programme. One such example would be the iWorkHealth tool, which is an online, self-administered psychosocial health assessment tool that helps companies and their employees to identify common workplace stressors, as part of workplace health risks and hazards.
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