Boosting safety at workplaces

Workplaces in Singapore look set to become less deadly for workers.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore aims to cut workplace fatalities to fewer than one death per 100,000 workers in about 10 years’ time.

It may look ambitious against last year’s 1.9 deaths per 100,000 workers, a ratio based on the 66 workers who died on the job. But as a First World country, Singapore should aim high.

Developed countries such as Britain, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands have already achieved Singapore’s new target. In Britain, the rate fell to below one death per 100,000 workers in 2001 and, last year, dipped to a record low of 0.4. This puts Singapore more than 20 years behind Britain.

When asked about the slow pace of change, Mr Ho Siong Hin, Singapore’s Commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health, said the country faces “challenges unique to our circumstances”.

He highlighted two: the large transient workforce in such sectors as construction and marine, where accident rates are high, and the number of small companies that lack the resources to implement workplace safety and health programmes.

The Manpower Ministry, however, has intensified its efforts on several fronts. More firms are being encouraged to use technology to reduce injuries and occupational diseases. The ministry is also piloting a safety centre at an industrial estate in Woodlands.

These moves cannot come soon enough. The importance of the lower workplace death target can be summed up in one sentence: Workers’ lives, health and well-being matter.

Singapore’s reputation and economic future are at stake too. If workplace safety standards cannot be improved, the country risks losing its competitive edge. The high stakes should spur all parties – the Government, unions, employers and workers – to work together to make workplaces safer. It befits Singapore’s stature as a First World nation.

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