Death and the construction industry

Picture above: Officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force searching for survivors after the scaffolding at the construction site for the new Downtown Line Bugis MRT station collapsed on July 18.

SINGAPORE - It's a tally that no one celebrates.

At least 28 people died at worksites in the first seven months of this year, figures provided by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) revealed.

Another 5,283 injuries were reported in the same timeframe, an MOM spokesman told The New Paper.

Last year, 61 people died at work, up from 55 in 2010. And there were 10,121 reports of injuries at the the workplace.

In 2010, the figure was 10,319.

In case you think it may be due to a lack of policing, the ministry said so far this year, it has fined 492 companies for infringing on workplace health and safety regulations.

A separate statement said that in the first nine months of last year, the authorities shut down work at 37 worksites and uncovered more than 1,800 safety and health violations relating to working from heights.

Of the 37 worksites that were shut down, "more than half" were slapped with fines, said a press release published in November last year .

Yet despite these efforts, accidents - some fatal - still occur.

Two weeks ago, two workers, both Chinese nationals, lost their lives when scaffolding supporting the roof in the linkway MRT tunnel they were in collapsed.

Tonnes of metal and wooden planks rained down on the men, while wet cement continued pouring into the tunnel, burying the two foreign workers who had been knocked to the ground.

The construction industry here records the most number of fatalities and permanent disablements.

Compared with the marine and manufacturing industries - which accounted for 10 and 13 deaths respectively - 22 people died at construction sites last year.

Experts in the construction industry say that although the Government is taking measures to enhance safety at worksites, more can be done.

Some of them point to the inadequate preparedness of foreign workers before they start work.

Training not enough

Training not enough

Foreign workers currently go through a one-day Construction Safety Orientation Course, conducted by training centres accredited by MOM's Occupational Safety and Health Division.

A site manager with more than 20 years of experience in the industry, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee, told TNP: "This is not enough. Training has to be conducted by the site supervisors and the safety officers on a day-to-day basis.

"That this is carried out properly is something difficult to enforce."

The language barrier is also a challenge, he added.

"They (the workers) come from all over the world. And many of them don't speak Mandarin, which many higher-grade site managers like myself do," he said.

"So that in itself is something that has be to be overcome."

While MOM-certified organisations audit the safety and health of workplaces here, many practices escape the radar.

Said Mr Lee: "Yes, the paperwork is done. Risk assessments are done. But whether or not there are proper safety instructions and reminders given to the workers from their supervisors is a whole other story."

Still, Mr Rupesh Kumar, director of Armstrong Health and Safety Training Providers, noted that certain developments bode well in reducing accidents.

He said: "Starting from the first quarter of this year, there has been new emphasis on working at heights, and with scaffolding - which involves the use of ladders, ropes, safety harnesses.

"There's been increased emphasis on the use of personal protective equipment as well. Two years ago, such issues were not a focus of the syllabus at all."

More focused safety training is needed to reduce the risk of accidents, said the president of the Singapore Institution of Safety Officers, Mr Seet Choh San. "For example, in systematic hazard identification. We cannot make safe what we do not know," he said.

"Strong systematic hazard identification skills by each person in the workplace, and especially by workers, is one way of arresting potential issues before they become reality."

This article was first published in The New Paper .