NEA to commence daily haze forecasts and health advisories from June 16

Hazy conditions seen from Marina Bay Sands Sky Park on May 28, 2014.
PHOTO: NEA to commence daily haze forecasts and health advisories from June 16

SINGAPORE - The National Environment Agency (NEA) announced today that in view of the possibility of transboundary haze during the Southwest Monsoon season, it will commence daily haze forecasts and health advisories from June 16.

Over the past few days, NEA said it has observed drier weather conditions affecting parts of the region and isolated hotspot activities in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

In the coming weeks, the prevailing Southwest Monsoon is expected to strengthen and persist with winds forecast to blow mostly from the southeast or southwest.

According to an earlier forecast by the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS), weak to moderate El Nino conditions are expected to develop in the next few months, which could exacerbate the drier and warmer conditions over Singapore and the region during the upcoming monsoon season.

"Prolonged drier and warmer conditions during an El Nino will increase the risk of the occurrence of transboundary smoke haze from land and forest fires in the region affecting Singapore," NEA said.

The agency added that the respective agencies have reviewed their action plans to mitigate the effects of haze on the public.

Healthcare preparedness and mask distribution

The Health Ministry (MOH) announced that it is working closely with healthcare institutions, polyclinics, general practitioners and Intermediate Long-Term Care (ILTC) partners to ensure that Singapore's healthcare sector is adequately prepared for haze episodes.

"There are contingency plans for the healthcare sector which aim to maintain patient safety, meet increased healthcare demand and minimise disruption to medical services. Measures will also be taken to ensure that patients in MOH's acute and community hospitals, as well as patients in nursing homes, are not adversely affected by the haze situation. If the situation warrants it, the Haze Subsidy Scheme will also be re-activated," MOH said in a joint statement with NEA and the Education and Manpower Ministry.

The Government has put together a stockpile of 16 million N95 masks to help ease supply shortages if required. MOH said it has also pre-positioned masks with distributors and the People's Association.

The Ministry added that N95 masks are not needed for short exposure to haze - such as commuting from home to school or work - and are also not needed in indoor environments.

"The public may wish to refer to MOH's health advisory for guidance on when and how N95 masks are to be used," it said.

Preparedness of educational institutions

All primary and secondary schools have in place a set of haze management plans and are ready to implement the appropriate haze management measures as required, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said.

If necessary, outdoor school activities may be replaced with alternative indoor arrangements, postponed or cancelled.

MOE said it will also consider closing all primary and secondary schools to students when the haze forecast and health advisory for the next day indicates that the air quality will be at hazardous level.

Schools will contact parents to inform them of the closure via phone or SMS.

Kindergartens (including MOE Kindergartens and Kindergarten Care Centres) and childcare centres will take guidance from the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) on the preparation for haze. The ECDA will align the closure of kindergartens and child care centres to the closure of schools, if any.

"During haze season, MOE and schools will continue to closely monitor the haze situation and take appropriate management measures based on the health advisory issued," the Ministry said in the joint statement.

Workplace safety

In accordance with the revised PSI bandings and MOH's revised health advisory, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it has updated its guidelines to advise employers and provide them with general measures for workplace safety and health protection in the event of haze.

The Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSHC) has issued a bulletin to its 33,000 subscribers on the revised guidelines. In addition, WSHC has been working closely with the industry associations whose members' employees perform prolonged/ strenuous outdoor work activities, to increase the awareness of both the firms and workers on this issue.

The Singapore Contractors Association Ltd (SCAL) has issued a circular to its members regarding haze management.

MOM noted that there is no pre-determined level at which all work would have to be stopped. Essential services would still continue, although appropriate adjustments would be necessary, MOM said.

"It is the employers' duty to protect their employees' safety and health at work. All employers should carry out proper risk assessments of their various work activities and implement appropriate measures, to ensure that the risks identified are minimised or mitigated," it added.

In situations where the haze poses risks to the safety and health of workers and measures have not been taken to mitigate those risks, MOM may order the affected work to stop.

The public will be able to read the latest advisories at the haze microsite (www.haze.gov.sg), the NEA website (www.nea.gov.sg), or follow NEA on NEA Facebook (www.facebook.com/NEASingapore) and NEA Twitter (@NEAsg).