Businesses ready to cope if haze returns

SINGAPORE - With fresh stocks of masks ready and contingency plans in place, companies from construction firms to hotels say they will be prepared for the haze if it returns to Singapore.

Their confidence is a contrast from last month, when record levels of haze took many construction companies by surprise, as Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) president Ho Nyok Yong noted.

Now, firms in various sectors say they are ready to follow Manpower Ministry guidelines, which outline what to do at higher Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels. If the 24-hour PSI crosses 200, for instance - when strenuous outdoor work should be avoided - construction firms doing high- rise and lifting work will stop their operations for safety, as visibility is reduced, bosses said.

And if the PSI hits 400 - well into the hazardous range - workers will be asked to stay indoors at their quarters, said Tiong Seng director Derick Pay.

At the Millennium & Copthorne group of hotels, employees on duty outdoors will work shorter hours and be issued masks, said a spokesman for Hong Leong Group, the hotels' parent company. Guests will be issued masks and offered bottled water if the haze returns.

SingPost, meanwhile, has stocked up on enough N95 masks to last two months. All its outdoor workers will wear them if the PSI crosses 100 into the unhealthy range, while older workers and those with chronic conditions will be moved indoors.

And if the PSI exceeds 200 (very unhealthy), outdoor staff will work fewer hours, while deliveries will be stopped if air quality reaches hazardous levels.

Mr Milton Ng, director of cleaning services firm Ramky Cleantech Services and president of the Environmental Management Association of Singapore, wanted to get firmer directions from the Government and unions, as clients' expectations may vary.

But SCAL president Dr Ho - who is also chief operating officer of builder Samwoh - said this would not work for the construction sector, as work ranges from outdoor high-rise or strenuous tasks, to easier jobs like painting or general maintenance. "You can't have a one-size-fits-all solution," he said.

Last month, a poll by the Singapore Business Federation found that less than half of 231 firms were prepared for the haze.

But that has changed.

"Now more businesses are realising that it is a reality and not a remote planning exercise," said the federation's chief operating officer Victor Tay.

Firms, he added, should consider customers' needs, employee welfare and even supply-chain disruptions in their planning.

The PSI on Friday is expected to be below 50 and in the good range, while the PM2.5 level will be slightly elevated. Normal activities can continue, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Thursday. The NEA has said that if winds blow from the west or south- west, Singapore could see the haze return. For the next few days, winds are expected to blow from the south or south-east.

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