New building design rules to keep workers safe

New building design rules to keep workers safe
Construction workers putting the finishing touches to a building in Toa Payoh. Under the upcoming Design for Safety framework, developers will have to incorporate risk control solutions into their designs upfront.

To make buildings safer for the people who build and maintain them, it will soon be compulsory for developers to ensure designs are safe to implement.

For example, workers may install lighting on a high ceiling using a conventional A-frame ladder, which is considered hazardous work at height.

But designers could instead create permanent access to a compartment above the ceiling through which workers could install and maintain the lighting.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam gave this example yesterday while announcing the upcoming mandatory Design for Safety (DfS) framework.

Speaking at the launch of this year's National Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Campaign, he said that developers and designers will have to "incorporate the necessary risk control solutions into the designs upfront".

"Builders and facility operators will then have significantly fewer risks to manage downstream," he said.

The Manpower Ministry (MOM) and Building and Construction Authority will lead a group to work out the details, which will be announced by the end of this year.

This approach has been promoted as a voluntary choice here since 2008, but will become legislated, as it is in Britain and Australia.

MOM is also reviewing its regulatory penalties and the legislative framework to deter companies and individuals from infringing workplace safety and health rules, said Mr Tharman, speaking to more than 900 delegates at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The fatality rate in the construction sector has risen over the past three years - from 5.5 per 100,000 workers in 2011, to seven per 100,000 workers last year.

This is well above the 2013 goal of 3.4 per 100,000 workers.

In contrast, the fatality rates for the marine and manufacturing sectors have fallen over the same period.

Singapore Contractors Association president Ho Nyok Yong said the framework will be helpful.

Now, designs are already finalised by the time the contractor gets them, and it may be time-consuming or costly to come up with the safest building method while on the job.

Dr Ho said that if risks are highlighted in the tender, "contractors can factor in the risk management features earlier and price proposals accordingly".

Mr Allen Ang, head of innovation and green building in City Developments' projects division, said that one DfS policy which the developer already follows is that external walls must not require the use of scaffolding for construction, as scaffolding typically means that workers are required to work at height.

"This means our architects and engineers have to propose designs such as utilising pre-cast technology that can minimise the risk of falling from height," he said.

Yesterday also saw the opening of the two-day Singapore WSH Conference at Suntec.

Speakers brought up the need to focus on the general health of workers, and not just health problems that could arise from work.

Professor Chia Kee Seng, dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said that failing to manage workers' health can become a cost to businesses.

"Right now, (employers) see that if there is an accident at the workplace, MOM will come down and give a stop-work order with very direct cost implications," he said.

"But when it comes to workers having diabetes, they may think insurance covers it. They didn't factor in productivity loss."

This article was published on May 8 in The Straits Times.

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