Workplace safety as second nature


THE Manpower Ministry should not have to put out a warning on workplace safety each time a rash of accidents occurs.

It is an industry responsibility to safeguard its own interests and those of its workforce. A safety culture ought to be ever-present, whether work involves support structures for concreting work, cranes, scaffolds or gondolas in painting jobs; whether at building sites, shipyards or in tunnels.

The difference between a fatal slip and an uneventful day's work can often be put down to negligence. Construction and engineering firms and their contractors will invariably declare that their practices and gear are safe and in accord with requirements. Yet preventable accidents happen regularly.

A look at the ministry's occupational safety websites and legislation will convince safety campaigners it is not more rules that are needed.

It is a safety-first mindset that has to be inculcated. Certain employers must be disabused of the notion that foreign workers' lives are cheap.

Denial of treatment and injury compensation that has compounded shoddy safety measures should be prosecuted to make the additional point that abuse has no place here.

Despite the claims, the safety culture is not sufficiently ingrained even after decades of industry evolution.

Both employers and workers have a shared responsibility in this, but the onus rests more on the firm to ensure it goes beyond observing the letter of the law. Its spirit should also be honoured. This is evident in countries where safety is second nature and workers know their rights, backed by union protections and tough state sanctions.

These workmen could justifiably decline to perform certain procedures if they are deemed unsafe, considering the equipment and support structure supplied. The boss just has to make good if he wants a project completed in time and on budget.

Thus is a culture developed. Over here, foreign manual workers are totally dependent on their employers and are less likely to speak up if conditions look risky.

Stringent industry audits and surprise inspections by the Manpower Ministry and the Building and Construction Authority will drive the message home that cutting corners and taking chances with workers' occupational health are unacceptable.

The Singapore Contractors Association has to be part of the regime, for its members' own good. Much is made of the fact that some contractors bid very low prices to win contracts. Safety might then be overlooked as costs have to be kept down to bring a profit.

Clients who hire these contractors are buying themselves loads of trouble, at a cost that will expose their folly. The industry has to be more enlightened, for everybody's sake.

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