The Minister of State for Manpower (Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong) (for the Minister for Manpower): Mr Speaker, Sir, on behalf of the Minister for Manpower, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time".
Sir, Singapore has made steady progress in our workplace safety and health (WSH) journey. A new WSH Framework was launched in 2005 following the occurrence of several major workplace accidents, including the Nicoll Highway collapse in 2004. Under this framework, the regulatory regime was strengthened through the enactment of the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSH Act) in 2006. We stepped up efforts to work with industry and tripartite partners to develop WSH capabilities and raise WSH awareness on the importance of safety and health. Together with our tripartite partners, we set a target to reduce our workplace fatality rate from 3.1 per 100,000 workers in 2006 to less than 1.8 per 100,000 workers by 2018.
Through the collective efforts of the industry and tripartite partners, the workplace fatality rate fell to 1.9 in 2016. Our WSH 2018 target is now within reach, but we cannot be complacent. We should strive to do even better. I have said it many times but I think it bears repeating, that is, every life lost is just one too many. We must, therefore, double our efforts to entrench the right WSH mindset, eradicate unsafe and unhealthy work practices and enhance WSH capabilities to create safe and healthy workplaces for all.
Our WSH journey over the last decade has taught us that all workplace injuries and ill-health are preventable with the full commitment of every stakeholder, that is, employers, workers, unions and the Government. We need a stronger emphasis on preventing harm from ever occurring. Prevention is, therefore, key to achieving safe and healthy workplaces for everyone. There are three areas where we can strengthen the culture of prevention.
First, we need to prevent the occurrence of unsafe work practices and health risks at work. Second, should an accident happen, we need to prevent its recurrence, especially for accidents that are complex, involving risks that are not well-understood and have the potential for serious harm. Third, we need to prevent workplace safety and health training courses from becoming outdated.
First, on preventing occurrence of unsafe work practices and health risks at work. When the WSH Act was enacted to replace the then-Factories Act in 2006, the penalty framework to deal with offenders was significantly enhanced. The maximum fine was raised by 2.5 times from $200,000 to $500,000 under the WSH Act. In cases where it is a repeated offence resulting in death, the maximum fine for corporate offenders can go up to $1 million.
Last year, the High Court laid out a framework to guide sentencing for WSH Act offences that took into account the level of culpability, severity and potential harm. The State Courts have since imposed higher penalties in prosecutions under the WSH Act. For example, SMRT was fined $400,000 for systemic failures resulting in the deaths of two employees this year. The higher penalties under the WSH Act have played a part in underscoring the seriousness of WSH offences. However, these penalties have mostly been applied to WSH offences when serious harm has already occurred. While we can penalise the companies, it is already too late for the injured or deceased workers and their families. Prevention is still the better option to protect against unnecessary loss of lives and livelihoods.
To strengthen the culture of prevention, we need to send a stronger signal that unsafe work practices and exposure to health risks are unacceptable, even when there are no accidents. Through our inspections, we uncover a wide spectrum of WSH offences every year. For minor offences that are unlikely to cause harm, we issue warnings and require rectification of the WSH lapses. However, there have been instances where no harm has occurred, but the companies have shown disregard for basic safety and health requirements. If we had not discovered them during our inspections, it would be a matter of time before they result in serious harm.
For example, during one of our routine inspections last year, we found a worksite with multiple open sides in different locations close to where the workers were deployed, therefore, exposing workers to risk of falling from height. There were also other lapses, such as electrical hazards and tripping risks. These were serious accidents waiting to happen and were averted only by sheer luck.
Mr Speaker, Sir, we should not allow our workers' lives to be determined by luck. Currently, we issue composition fines and Stop Work Orders for such serious cases of offenders where no harm has occurred. However, we have seen a doubling of such cases, from 13 in 2013 to 26 in 2016. We need to take a tougher deterrent stance and prosecute them under the WSH Act Subsidiary Legislation, including first-time egregious offenders.
For the Subsidiary Legislation (SL) prosecution to have effective deterrent value, the SL penalties should also be increased. Clause 7(c) of the Bill will, therefore, raise the maximum penalty under the SL by 2.5 times, from $20,000 to $50,000. This is consistent with the 2.5 times increase in the maximum penalty under the WSH Act, from $200,000 to $500,000 which was enacted in 2006. We will apply the $50,000 maximum fine to SL offences that may cause or result in death, serious injury or dangerous occurrence. They account for about 80% of all SL offences now, mostly with a maximum fine of $20,000. Some of these offences include failure to have protective structures, such as barriers at open sides or around excavations to prevent falls, and failure to appoint authorised persons to supervise hazardous works, thereby exposing workers to danger that may result in death or serious injury.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to assure the House that my Ministry will remain judicious in our enforcement approach. Even as we raise the maximum fine under the SL for the majority of the offences, the penalties we seek will be calibrated based on factors, such as the culpability of the offender, the severity of harm that could have resulted, and the likelihood of harm. We will only prosecute the more egregious cases where the offenders have ignored the safety and health of workers and serious harm is likely to occur.
Second, to prevent recurrence of complex accidents, where the risks are not well-understood and have the potential for serious harm and could be present in other companies, we need to ensure timely sharing of learnings from the investigation into such accidents. The learnings are needed not just to raise awareness of safety and health risks, but to provide recommendations on how to eliminate or mitigate the risks.
Currently, case facts of complex accidents are released only after the conclusion of criminal proceedings, which could take around three years from the time of accident. This is done so as not to prejudice the outcome of legal proceedings. However, the learning value to industry is delayed, and the risk of such an accident recurring persists for a longer period of time.
We believe timely and early sharing of case facts and recommendations with the industry is important to prevent recurrence. Clause 3 of the Bill will, therefore, allow the Commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health to release a learning report before legal proceedings have concluded. Learning reports will not be released for all accidents, but only where the Commissioner for WSH considers it to be necessary in the interest of the public, particularly for those where the risks were not so well-understood and have the potential for serious harm and could be present in other companies.
The learning report is not intended to apportion blame or liability, but simply to allow other companies to learn from the accident and take immediate steps to avoid similar circumstances. To safeguard the interests of the parties involved, learning reports will be inadmissible in any civil, criminal, disciplinary, arbitral or work injury compensation proceedings.
The learning report will only contain information necessary for learning value. We do not intend to name companies or individuals, and there will be no statements of liability in the report. To further allay industry concerns over unwarranted reputational damage or unintended disclosure of intellectual property, we will establish a process to consult relevant parties on the draft report before publishing.
Allowing the release of information for the sole purpose of learning without attributing blame or liability is not new and has been adopted in other situations and countries. For example, investigation reports by the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau under the Ministry of Transport are published for the sole purpose of accident prevention, and their reports are also inadmissible in any civil or criminal proceedings.
The United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and the United Kingdom Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) also release accident investigation reports focused solely on improving safety and not to apportion blame or liability. Accident investigation reports by CSB and RAIB may also be issued, whether or not civil or criminal proceedings are in progress. These reports and lessons learnt have enhanced industry's understanding of specific areas of risk. Many of these safety recommendations by CSB and RAIB have been implemented by industry, resulting in safer chemical facilities, safer transport and safer communities.
To sustain improvement in our WSH performance, a workforce competent and skilled in managing workplace safety and health is critical. Over the years, MOM has worked with the industry to define standards and guide the design of WSH-related courses. Annually, over 150,000 workers are trained in basic safety orientation courses offered by about 80 training providers accredited under the Approved Training Provider (ATP) scheme by MOM.
As the industries undergo transformations to create new and better jobs, we need to ensure that WSH courses remain up-to-date with the latest content and training methods. As part of this effort, we have been working very closely with SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and the WSH training industry to align the current WSH courses to the national Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) system and transfer the accreditation of WSH training providers to SSG. So far, 23 courses have been developed under the WSQ system and offered by SSG-accredited training providers. We expect the migration of the remaining 33 courses to be completed by 2019.
Under the SSG accreditation system, training providers are not only required to ensure that their training content is relevant to the industry, but also that their teaching methods are up to date. For example, training providers are expected to leverage on technologies, such as Virtual Reality, and use innovative learning approaches to enhance the quality and the effectiveness of learning. This helps to make learning more engaging and will also lead to better WSH learning outcomes.
With SSG being the single authority to accredit all WSH training providers by 2019, clauses 4 and 5 are consequential amendments to remove the requirement for the Commissioner to accredit WSH training providers.
Sir, we are also taking this opportunity to update the personal liability protection provision in the WSH Act by bringing it in line with the protection provided to inspectors or enforcement officers in other legislation.
Currently, the personal liability protection for inspectors under the WSH Act is limited to equipment damages due to a prescribed examination or test, and the Commissioner's and Deputy Commissioner's duties in relation to a remedial order or stop-work order.
Clause 6 will extend the scope of personal liability protection to the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, inspectors and authorised officers for acts done in good faith and with reasonable care in carrying out their duties under the WSH Act properly and professionally. This is similar to the personal liability protection provision under other legislation, such as the Fire Safety Act and the Environmental Protection and Management Act.
Nonetheless, I would like to reassure the House that protection will only be extended to inspectors and authorised officers who have exercised reasonable care and consideration in the execution of their duties under the WSH Act. The Government and its officers remain liable for negligent acts or for acts beyond their legal powers.
In conclusion, the adage that "Prevention is better than cure" remains relevant in the area of workplace safety and health. These changes will further strengthen the foundation for a stronger prevention mindset and are important steps as we move towards our next target of reducing workplace fatality rate to less than one per 100,000 workers before 2028. Countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, which have put together greater emphasis to entrench a culture of prevention, have already achieved this lower fatality rate. There is much that we can learn from these countries.
Enacting progressive WSH legislation is necessary but insufficient. Over the next few months, we will engage our tripartite partners and industry stakeholders to co-develop the WSH 2028 national strategy for the next decade. Collectively, we will identify WSH challenges ahead, chart directions and develop key strategies to make Singapore one of the safest and healthiest workplaces in the world. This will be a very big challenge but, together with our tripartite partners and industry stakeholders, I believe we will be able to achieve it.
Mr Patrick Tay Teck Guan (West Coast): Mr Speaker, Sir, in October 2015, an explosion at a gas manufacturing factory at Tanjong Kling claimed the life of a 30-year-old chemist. She was a new mom to a six-month-old daughter. It was her first week back at work from maternity leave. She was working in the laboratory when the explosion occurred. Tragically, the emergency response team was unable to locate her and her remains were only discovered after firefighters had put out the fire.
The incident hit close to home as the victim was one of our members in the Chemical Industries Employees’ Union (CIEU). The loss goes beyond a single fatality. On that fateful day, a husband lost his wife, a child her mother, the parents their daughter. Seven other employees were also injured in the fire, suffering from lacerations, burns and smoke inhalation injuries. We would never wish this upon anyone and the lessons learnt there are just as pertinent today.
The WSH Act was enacted in 2006 for the very purpose of preventing such incidents from occurring and is structured based on three key principles. First, reducing risks at source; second, engendering industry ownership of workplace safety and health outcomes; and third, preventing workplace accidents through higher penalties for poor safety management.
In over a decade, we have made progress based on these key principles in reducing our workplace fatalities from 4.9 per 100,000 workers in 2004, to 2.8 per 100,000 workers in 2008, and further to 1.9 per 100,000 workers in 2016. In the first half of 2017, there have been 19 fatal work accidents, compared to 66 workplace accident fatalities in 2016.
By 2018, we are striving to reach our WSH2018 target of 1.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers, and our next target is to go below one fatality per 100,000 workers by 2028. The review of the Act is, therefore, timely as we seek to further enhance workplace safety at our various workplaces. I am supportive of the intent behind the proposed amendments. However, I have a few questions to seek clarification on the proposed amendments.
First, strengthening deterrence. One of the ways through which the Bill seeks to reinforce the prevention culture is by increasing the maximum fine that can be prescribed under the Subsidiary Legislation from $20,000 to $50,000. The higher maximum fine is intended for offences which could result in death, serious bodily injury or dangerous occurrence even where harm has not occurred yet.
While I agree with the intent of this amendment, I would like to seek clarity from the Minister as to what offences would the increased maximum fine apply to, and to request the Minister to share some examples of incidents where such heightened penalties are required.
Second, the Bill provides for the sharing of learning reports with findings on major incidents so that industry can take corrective steps as soon as possible to prevent complex and major accidents from recurring. It is provided in the Bill that such a learning report would not be admissible as evidence in any civil, criminal, arbitral or disciplinary proceedings before any court, tribunal or body or proceedings under the Work Injury Compensation Act. I see the value of sharing learning expeditiously to prevent recurrence of the accident. However, I have concerns if there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that investigations and due process will not be prejudiced. I, therefore, have five questions on this proposed amendment.
Third, I would like to ask the Minister what safeguards are in place to ensure that these learning reports will not prejudice the outcomes of subsequent civil or criminal proceedings. While the reports are not admissible as evidence in legal proceedings, the reports may result in preconceived positions or bias in witnesses and public discussion of these reports may also invariably cause impressions to be formed which may affect the outcome of the proceedings.
Fourth, I am concerned that companies, in conducting their internal review of accidents, may rely on these learning reports to take premature action to discipline or dismiss their employees before official investigations are completed. For example, in the tragic train track accident last year, which took the lives of two SMRT trainees, SMRT fired two staff following their internal review of the accident before official investigations were concluded. The union's position is that it is important to allow due process to take its course and for all facts to be revealed through official investigations before drawing any conclusions which impact the livelihood of workers involved.
Lastly, I would like to ask the Minister what safeguards are in place to ensure that these learning reports will not prejudice the outcomes of official investigations by MOM or SCDF and other relevant agencies and to what extent the content in these learning reports would differ from the reports from these official investigations.
The last amendment which I would like to address is the removal of the requirement for the Commissioner to accredit WSH training as MOM transfers the accreditation of training to SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). I agree that having accreditation functions under SSG will enable SSG to have a more holistic view of adult education and training and undertake a more coordinated approach toward audits and quality assurance. However, I would like to ask the Minister whether SSG will continue to work with subject matter experts from MOM to review the curriculum of WSH training to ensure their relevance, or if the subject matter experts will be persons within SSG.
I would also like to propose that in forming the curriculum of the training, industry associations, practitioners, unions and our working people should be engaged in the process to ensure that the training delivered is relevant, practical, tailored to the needs of each industry and endorsed by the industry. At the NTUC, the Workplace Safety and Health Secretariat works with the network of 58 affiliated unions on improving workplace safety and health conditions of workers. The Secretariat also works with trade associations and small and medium enterprises to reach out to workers to raise awareness of the importance of workplace safety and health. The Singapore Institute of Safety Officers (SISO) is also one of the Labour Movement's U Associates partners in developing workplace safety and health professionals in Singapore. I urge SSG and the training providers to work closely with the Labour Movement to raise the standards of workplace safety and health training and mobilise more of our working people to adopt safer practices at their workplaces.
In the same vein, training providers should leverage on technology to ensure greater accessibility to training. This can be done through bite-sized modular training which can be completed on-the-go, such as through e-learning modules, and leverage on technology, such as virtual reality, to help learners pick up safety concepts in a safe, yet realistic, environment. For example, NTUC Learning Hub is looking into training which adopts virtual reality and augmented reality for work-at-heights courses and courses which are scenario-specific to the workers' work environment, for example, shipyards and construction sites. These scenarios can then be easily modified to test the trainees in different environments with varied levels of risk assessment. Mr Speaker, in Chinese.
(In Mandarin): [Please refer to Vernacular Speeches.] This Amendment Bill has made improvements in the following three areas to ensure that workplace safety will be more enhanced.
The second is about the learning reports. While we prepare the learning report, safeguards must be in place to ensure that it does not interfere with the investigation of the case. The report will also help us to learn lessons and nip potential accidents in the bud.
Third, professional training used to be under the purview of MOM and is now transferred to SSG. I hope that SSG will work with the industry associations, unions, employers and employees on training curriculum and standards.
(In English): At the end of the day, top-down enforcement and enhancing legislation can only go so far. Everyone along the value chain has a part to play. Leaders of organisations need to take ownership of safety as a core business value. Supervisors need to lead by example and workers on the ground cannot be complacent. We must be proactive in ensuring that our work environment is safe. Tripartite partners and industry stakeholders, including training providers, have to take concerted effort collectively to go beyond compliance to build a culture of safety which will result in a true win-win-win for all stakeholders so that every workplace is a safer workplace, every worker a safer worker and every employer, a safer employer.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Mr Speaker, Sir, workplace safety and health is a serious concern. When the viaduct at the Pan-Island Expressway worksite at Upper Changi Road East collapsed and killed a worker and injured 10 others in July, Singaporeans were shocked and saddened. Even though many of the workers who are most exposed to the risk of injuries at the workplace are foreign workers, Singaporeans do not discriminate but instead feel for them as fellow workers. There is a common humanity in seeing bodies broken by preventable accidents. There are no national differences in knowing families are devastated by the lives of loved ones lost.
As far as this Bill seeks to achieve the goals of the Workplace Safety and Health 2018 Plus strategy, it is a commendable move. Since the new WSH framework was implemented in 2005, workplace injuries and fatalities have come down substantially. The rate of fatal injuries came down from 4.9 per 100,000 employed persons in 2004 to the targeted 1.8 in 2014. There is scope to go down further, as many advanced industrial countries, such as the UK, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, have lower rates, as low as 1.0. One of the four strategic outcomes for WSH 2018 is for Singapore to be renowned as a centre of excellence for WSH. We need to compete with these leaders. In this regard, I am glad that Minister of State Mr Sam Tan had mentioned that we will be competing with these leaders. I would like to bring up three points on this Bill to make us more competitive.
Our recent progress has stagnated. The rate of fatal injuries bounced back up and hovered at 1.9 in the last two years. We seem to have hit a roadblock in improving workplace safety and health. To tackle the roadblock, WSH 2018 Plus seeks to adopt a differentiated enforcement approach to improve the WSH performance of companies with different capabilities and attitude, and to build collective ownership of a pervasive WSH culture. This suggests that the roadblock appears to be a widespread organisational culture that goes against WSH principles. And I say this without being facetious in reference to the SMRT saga. Can the Minister confirm that this is a problem that we are now facing with regard to WSH progress?
If it is so, then the amendments in this Bill to give the Commissioner the power to prepare and publish a learning report on any accident, dangerous occurrence or occupational disease in a workplace under investigation should be supported. This is the first point I would like to bring up. We need to create a positive learning culture of respect and concern for the well-being of our workers rather than a culture of blame, scapegoating and compensation. In this light, that the learning report is inadmissible as evidence in court proceedings and that an inspector involved in the learning report cannot be compelled to give testimony or evidence, are understandable. This will protect the objectives of the learning report.
However, the new section 27B(3) allows for the learning report to be admissible as evidence in three types of inquiry. The first is an Inquiry Committee that the Minister can appoint under the Workplace Safety and Health Act to hold an inquiry into any accident, dangerous occurrence or occupational disease, which could lead to criminal proceedings. The second is an inquiry under the Coroners Act. The third is an inquiry by a commission of inquiry or a committee of inquiry under the Inquiries Act. This adds layers of complexity that may affect the preparation and publication of a learning report. Let me just tackle one such layer, the first one, in which the Minister can appoint an Inquiry Committee under the WSH Act.
When the Commissioner becomes aware of an accident in a workplace, he or she may direct an inspector to investigate the accident. Depending on the findings of the investigation, he may direct a learning report to be prepared. The Commissioner may also recommend to the Minister to appoint an Inquiry Committee. Can the Commissioner do both? If so, how can the inspector be expected to not compromise the objectives of the learning report, knowing that the report will be admitted as evidence for the Inquiry Committee and he can be compelled to testify before it? If the Inquiry Committee recommends criminal proceedings to be instituted by submitting a copy of the report to the Public Prosecutor, then in the subsequent criminal proceedings, can the learning report be admitted as evidence and the inspector called to testify before court? There is some ambiguity as to whether section 27B(1) and (2) allow for this subsequent development. Can the Minister of State please clarify?
Moving on to my second point, we need to better tackle occupational diseases and improve workplace health. Beyond the headline-grabbing accidents, MOM statistics for the recent years show that the number of confirmed occupational diseases is rising. The percentage of fatalities with workplace health as a contributory factor rose to one-third in 2014. While the occupational diseases and workplace health issues are less visible and their impact less immediate, because they have what is called a long latency period, some diseases taking many years to surface after exposure to the causes, they can have far greater life-changing impact on workers.
The WSH strategy is currently oriented towards reducing workplace fatality and injury. I believe there is a need to pay equal attention to occupational diseases and workplace health, with appropriate targets in reducing incidences of occupational diseases.
It is in this arena that I think a positive learning culture would have multiplier effects on improving workplace health. However, the learning report is not so useful in this respect. The learning report instrument is useful for workplace safety, as learning points could be quickly shared and corrections quickly made to prevent similar accidents from happening across an industrial sector. This instrument is less useful for workplace health, as the long latency period of occupational diseases could mean that thousands of workers would have been affected by the time an incidence is made known and a learning report published. There is a need for a different model here due to the different nature of occupational diseases.
The learning report model is also less useful because many of our workers exposed to occupational diseases are foreign workers and the long latency period of occupational diseases means that these workers may only develop ill health after they have gone home or are sent back because of their ill health. Incidences of occupational disease will go unreported in such cases.
We could learn from the UK Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the counterpart of our WSH Council. There are two aspects we can learn from and to adapt for our efforts to tackle occupation diseases and workplace health.
Firstly, instead of a reactive approach that focuses on reporting, investigating and enforcing, the approach taken by the HSE encourages proactive promotion and sharing of ideas and solutions between companies within and across industry sectors.
Secondly, on its part, the HSE focuses the sharing on two key priority areas, which are respiratory diseases and occupational cancer. This is because these potentially affect many workers and were shown to have high incidence of disease.
One issue that will subvert any model is under-reporting of accidents and occupational diseases. This is my third and last point: we need to tackle the under-reporting of accidents to make the learning report instrument effective and to make ownership of a learning WSH culture possible and meaningful. Is there under-reporting of accidents and occupational diseases here in Singapore? We do not know. But there are some indications there could be. NGOs, such as Transient Workers Count Too, have raised this concern. MOM statistics also indicate the possibility. For example, the number of cases of Occupational Skin Disease doubled in the first half of 2017, which MOM said was likely due to greater awareness of reporting requirements. I believe it is timely for the Government to commission a study on the scale and causes of under-reporting of accidents and occupational diseases.
In this regard, the Government’s approach to occupational diseases is more stringent and progressive, as doctors are required to report any of the occupational diseases listed in the Second Schedule of the WSH Act. This is conveniently done through MOM’s electronic notification system or MOH’s Health Professional Portal. As the WSH Council’s Guidelines on the Diagnosis and Management of Occupational Diseases state on this reporting requirement, "A robust notification system provides important data for understanding the extent and depth of the occupational safety and health status in Singapore. It helps the authorities to identify persons and industries at risk, as well as to identify new and emerging ones."
I think this is very well-said. Now, surely, this applies to workplace safety and the reporting of accidents, too. So, why not require doctors to report any suspected workplace accidents, especially when a worker is hospitalised for at least 24 hours or given MC for more than three days? This is required for employers, but they have no natural incentive to do this, especially when the injured workers are foreign workers who are not aware of their rights or are too afraid of having their employment terminated by their employers and forcibly repatriated. Doctors are better placed to report the injuries as suspected to be resulting from workplace accidents since they are pledged to a professional ethical code and have the knowledge to give a proper diagnosis of the injuries and opinion to the causes of the injuries. Furthermore, the system is already in place for doctors to report occupational diseases in a convenient and accessible manner. There is very little cost to adding on the requirement for doctors to report injuries due to suspected workplace accidents.
Let me repeat the WSH Council’s words, "A robust notification system provides important data for understanding the extent and depth of the occupational safety and health status in Singapore. It helps the authorities to identify persons and industries at risk, as well as to identify new and emerging ones." This applies equally to workplace accidents. Required reporting is part of the learning culture that the WSH 2018 Plus framework is trying to promote. I urge the Government to consider required reporting by doctors of injuries suspected to be caused by workplace accidents. With the learning report instrument, such reporting does not have to end in blame and liability, but in getting the whole industry sectors to take responsibility and ownership of WSH. I cannot see the logic of excluding required reporting by doctors of injuries in this new learning culture we are trying to promote.
Ms K Thanaletchimi (Nominated Member): Mr Speaker, Sir, safety and health should be more than an integral part of a company’s culture, including Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). It should be engrained in the DNAs of the organisation for us to achieve our vision towards zero accident. Our working people need to have a safe environment, as well as good health, to do their daily work efficiently and contribute at their optimum capacity. Safety and health can affect an individual’s and a company’s productivity and, hence, influence the economic output of the company and the country as a whole.
It is vital to strengthen industry ownership of workplace safety and health outcomes. Workplace incidents vary across industries and, hence, there should be more platforms for industries to come together at sector level and share incidents and learning pointers for everyone to better understand the issues.
The Bill sets out to allow the Commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health to make public a detailed incident learning report before any prosecution. However, we need to have a clear purpose and measurable outcomes to see if this initiative translates into intended outcomes on enhancing workplace safety. There should be clear links between such practices leading to a reduction in workplace incidents at the sectorial level. Having said that, it is essential for all stakeholders to understand that such report sharing should not be a finger-pointing exercise where stakeholders may form a preconceived notion of the cause of the incident even before the investigation is conclusive, instead of using such case sharing to learn and to avoid similar incidents from occurring.
Enhancing deterrence through more stringent WSH penalties is welcomed. However, the maximum penalty amount does not seem to be much of a deterrent, especially when there is loss of life or lives. Moreover, besides penalties, there should also be rewards to motivate organisations and individuals to practice workplace safety and health as a way of life and as a DNA of its organisation. Penalty can be in the form of added tax. Incentive can be in the form of tax rebates. Employers can then plough this amount to institute additional safety measures or health programmes for employees, including for their mental health well-being.
Lastly, I would like raise a dire concern of workplace abuse and harassment. Even though the Protection from Harassment Act provides an avenue for individuals to take civil or criminal action against perpetrators, there is still the hovering concern that such post-incident penalty does not reduce the number of such incidences over time and neither does it provide impetus for employers to put in place the required awareness, knowledge and training element, as well as preventive or deterrent measures, to protect employees from such abuses and harassment at the workplace.
Different employers have different levels of measures implemented, and some have none at the workplace. Besides, such incidences not only affect the physical but also the psychological and emotional state of individuals if it happens. To present greater weightage to this issue of abuse and harassment at workplace, can there be a more defined inclusion of workplace abuse and harassment incorporated into the workplace safety and health requirement and obligation by employers so as to provide a safe work environment for the employees? Can Work Injury and Compensation Act include such forms of inflicting injury caused by abuse and harassment that are proven with evidence, instead of individuals taking up a costly civil case against perpetrators? Can there also be punitive action taken against employers who do not have processes or measures in place to protect employees from such abuses or do not act on clear alarm raised with due diligence? With increasing number of abuses and harassment over time, it is important that more needs to be done in this aspect. Call it education awareness or mindset change, but nothing beats legislation and enforcement.
Mr Melvin Yong Yik Chye (Tanjong Pagar): Mr Speaker, I stand in support of the Bill. I would like to first declare my interest as NTUC’s Director for Workplace Safety and Health, and a member of the WSH Council.
Good working conditions are vital to helping workers feel safe, which will improve productivity and the competitiveness of our industries. Any workplace fatality is one too many, and there can never be enough emphasis on ensuring that our workers, regardless of industry, have a safe working environment. At the opening of the World Congress on Safety and Health At Work in September this year, Prime Minister Lee set a target for Singapore to reduce our workplace fatality rate to below 1.0 per 100,000 workers by 2028, down from the current 1.9 per 100,000 workers. Achieving this will take a tremendous amount of effort and teamwork from all stakeholders, and the proposed amendments in this Bill would certainly serve as a good start.
Let me begin by saying that I support the proposed increase in the maximum fine, which will go up from $20,000 to $50,000. A harsher deterrence will compel companies to sit up and take notice of the severity of a WSH offence. I hope the enhanced penalties will serve to "incentivise" companies to focus on preventing workplace accidents rather than taking remedial actions.
To foster an ideal WSH culture, the Ministry can consider adopting the Labour Movement’s 3Cs approach to improving the WSH awareness culture. One, focus on better coordination by convincing companies to cut internal red tapes, so as to enable smooth implementation of WSH initiatives. Two, secure greater commitment across all levels in a company, from the top management to the ground supervisors, right down to general workers, to collectively commit to raising safety and health standards. Three, engage in targeted coaching by having industry-specific WSH training courses or modules as part of the WSH accreditation process.
Next, I would like to seek some clarifications on the provisions of the Bill which would allow the WSH Commissioner to make public a detailed incident learning report of any WSH incident while the incident is still under investigation. I would like to ask the Minister to clarify, using some past examples, on what are the sort of incidents that would warrant the release of such a report. While I can understand the intention to share learning points to plug potential safety gaps in companies working in the same industry, we need to be mindful of prejudicing the investigation results and stirring public opinion needlessly when findings have yet to be finalised. Such reports can also be sensitive if a public-listed company is involved. Premature release of information before prosecution may affect the share price, the company's business and, consequently, may affect workers and cause workers to be displaced or retrenched.
Recently, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) in the US had asked employers to submit detailed injury and illness logs to the agency for public posting. However, industry groups are now suing OSHA, citing that the new rule exposes a business to significant reputational harm without proving that this has effectively reduced workplace injuries and illnesses.
Mr Speaker, if the aim of the learning report is to prevent or minimise the recurrence of similar accidents, then it may be better to share the report only with the relevant stakeholders and industry players. This is similar to the aviation industry, where an advisory can be first published and shared internally within industry players, followed by a detailed incident report later on. I am, therefore, assured to hear from the Minister of State that the Ministry will be judicious in the release of such learning reports.
Mr Speaker, I participated in a recent tripartite study visit to Finland and Sweden, just three weeks ago, to learn about their WSH practices. Finland and Sweden have had workplace fatality rates of below 1.0 per 100,000 workers, and there are many lessons that we can learn from them. For example, Finland, which has about the same population as Singapore, has around 60,000 Occupational Safety and Health specialists – or about one for every 10 regular workers. I would like to ask the Ministry about the number of trained WSH specialists we have locally, and what is the target number that we would need in order to have a safer and healthier workplace environment.
I would also like to propose for the Ministry to consider establishing a national register of trained WSH specialists. This would certainly help to facilitate the quick and effective dissemination of important WSH advisories to the ground. Similarly, best practices can also be shared within specific industrial cluster in a prompt manner.
A central training centre, with the support of our tripartite partners, would also go a long way in grooming the next generation of WSH specialists and ensure proper progression within the sector. The centre can also be given the mandate to come up with a customised Professional Conversion Programme and a Progressive Wage Model for safety officers to upskill and progress in their careers. A clearly defined career path, with commensurate wages, will also help attract more local talents to the profession.
Mr Speaker, while it is important to have preventive measures to mitigate workplace injuries, it is equally important to help our workers return to work in the event of an accident. At this year’s Committee of Supply debate, I highlighted the need for a support framework, beyond the existing Workplace Injury Compensation Act, to help injured workers return to work. Unfortunately, the reality is that not many employers proactively help their injured employees during and after the rehabilitation process. I called the for MOM to establish a scheme to better help injured workers – one which includes a structured case management system to help our workers with injury management, rehabilitation, job redesign and even job placement where necessary.
Since then, NTUC has been working closely with our tripartite partners on this and I am heartened that the Return-To-Work (RTW) Programme was launched by the Workplace Safety & Health Council (WSHC) just last week. The programme will see the WSHC working with our public hospitals to provide early intervention for workers who are injured in the course of their work, as well as enable companies to help their workers gradually ease back into their jobs. I would like to urge companies to subscribe to this programme, which is voluntary at the moment.
But I am happy to note that there are already companies who have appointed their own in-house Return-To-Work coordinators, such as Sembawang Shipyard. Ideally, such in-house coordinators should be the future of the Return-To-Work Programme. However, because these coordinators are not accredited, companies are unable to currently tap on any Government funding. Can the Ministry work towards accrediting more of such in-house coordinators so as to allow companies to be able to tap on Government funding?
With the Return-to-Work Programme in place, we now need to ask ourselves, what more can we do for injured workers? In Australia, the United States and the EU, the Return-To-Work framework is legislated. Would the Ministry consider legislating the RTW framework, or at least some aspects of it, at some point in time to better protect our workers and help those who are injured recover and reintegrate back to work quickly, so that their livelihoods are not adversely affected?
My final point, Mr Speaker, is that much of our WSH efforts today focus on workplace safety. Physical health and mental well-being, however, are sorely lacking in our current WSH efforts and conversations. A build-up of stress and fatigue can lead to distractions, which will place our workers at higher risk of getting injured at work. Therefore, it is of paramount importance for us to practice WSH holistically, by focusing on the body, mind and soul, in order for our workplaces to be truly a safe and healthy environment for our workers. Just as we have Total Defence, we must endeavour for Total Workplace Safety and Health. With that, Mr Speaker, I support the Bill.
Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines): Mr Speaker, it was reported that the number of fatalities and injuries in the workplace decreased in the first half of this year compared to last year. This is good progress. While the spectre of major incidents such as PIE worksite collapse might linger, we are in the right direction. We must continue working towards ever safer workplaces.
When it comes to ensuring workplace safety, two key areas come to mind. Firstly, the Vision Zero Movement sets us on the right mindset. All workplace injuries and health issues are preventable. In fact, it must be the goal of all companies to have zero accidents.
In line with the movement, it is important to ensure that companies with a chequered past are not given the opportunity to be awarded contracts for key public projects, certainly without heavy scrutinising to ensure that they have put in clear systems to rectify their lapses. If we truly desire to have zero accidents and fatalities, we must have a more robust system of ensuring that only companies with a clean record or good remedial measures are given such larger jobs. Does the Ministry have a system of evaluation where companies that have flouted safety regulations repeatedly are taken out of circulation and prevented from being in the industry again?
A desire for zero fatalities and accidents would not just rest with the leaders of a company but it should be a collective aspiration that is shared with all workers. A secure and accessible feedback mechanism should be in place for workers, especially in the construction, marine and engineering sectors. There should be a balancing or rebalancing of powers where workers and employers are concerned as many workers, especially foreign workers, might feel afraid to speak up even if they know there are violations. What incentives are there for workers to be a whistle-blower where safety is concerned? What reassurance will they have and how will this be communicated to workers to encourage them to speak up?
Secondly, training is important where workplace safety and health are concerned. One of the provisions of this Bill is to have the requirement for the Commissioner to accredit WSH training providers to be removed. This is because, as part of the migration of WSH training courses from MOM to SkillsFuture SG, the training providers will have to go through re-accreditation to meet the new standards. According to MOM, it has been working with SSG to prepare the WSH training providers for this change. Could the Minister provide an update on what percentage of companies have successfully made the migration and how many more are left to complete it by 2019? What are the measures taken to ensure training capacity has not been affected? Will this incur higher costs for businesses and what are MOM’s plans to help them?
Technology is also a great enabler in some sectors as it can help reduce human error and accidents. Could the Minister also share the progress of some examples of companies that have successfully used technology to enhance the safety processes at work? How can the Ministry also incentivise the adoption of technologies to reduce the occurrence of workplace accidents?
The progress towards safer workplaces is never a smooth or linear one. It will be littered with unfortunate incidents that we must do well to learn from and better protect our workers. This Bill will build on our previous efforts and is in the correct direction. Sir, I support the Bill.
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Nee Soon): Sir, the WSH 2018 workplan for advancing safety and health articulates a vision of Singapore as a centre of excellence for workplace health and safety. To achieve this bold ambition, our legislative and regulatory framework must identify and address the key causes of workplace accidents.
The WSH 2018 Plus workplan had highlighted improving WSH performance in the construction industry as a key priority. At the outset, it is necessary to recognise the reality that low-wage migrant workers form the bulk of the workforce in the construction industry, and other sectors such as marine and manufacturing that are the top contributors of workplace fatalities and injuries.
Firstly, the Bill increases the maximum fine for offences that may cause death, serious bodily injury, or dangerous occurrence to $50,000. Can the Minister clarify whether the enhanced fines apply to offences that lead to or increase the risk of occupational diseases?
While occupational diseases may take a longer time to manifest, may be harder to detect, and may be harder to link causally to the workplace, their effects on the health of workers can be just as detrimental.
Secondly, under section 41(1)(a), safety inspectors have the power to inspect workplaces at any time. I understand that workers have reported instances of employers with advance knowledge that an inspection was going to take place.
Can the Minister confirm that it is indeed the case that inspections are conducted without prior notice? Or is it the case that there are announced inspections and unannounced inspections? If so, what percentage of inspections is unannounced?
While the employer is not permitted under section 18(1) to deduct any sums for anything done or provided by him as part of such measures, civil society organisations have heard accounts from workers who were injured because they were not provided with, could not afford to buy, or could not afford to replace damaged safety equipment. Further, many workers report having to pay for safety equipment through salary deductions.
Can the Minister confirm that the provision of safety equipment and training is part of the measures necessary to ensure the health and safety of employees under section 12(1), and that employers cannot recover such costs from workers?
Also, can the Minister clarify if it is within the scope of safety inspections to ensure that employers are not deducting costs for safety equipment from workers? It is a relevant contributing factor to workers not having the necessary equipment for their health and safety.
Fourth, section 16 of the act requires manufacturers and suppliers of machinery, equipment or hazardous substance to provide information about precaution, hazards and safe use. Such information may not be provided in a language that is understood by the foreign workers who form the bulk of the workforce most vulnerable to workplace hazards.
Fifth, the WSH Guidelines note that fatigue can lead to physical and mental impairment, which increases error rates and risk of injuries. Such fatigue can accumulate as a result of workers being required to perform overtime work day after day.
Civil society organisations report encountering workers who work beyond the maximum allowable overtime hours, with little or no days off. Tight schedules, budget, and man-year entitlement limitations might lead to workers being asked to work longer hours.
I understand that MOM’s inspections on companies’ compliance with the Employment Act found that most have complied with working hour provisions and that WSH inspectors examine plans to manage workers’ fatigue.
However, will WSH inspectors also include as part of their inspections the actual number of hours clocked by workers as plans may not always be complied with in the face of punishing completion deadlines and limited manpower.
Furthermore, despite MOM’s extensive efforts in safety inspections, many workplace violations may still go unnoticed if not reported by workers. However, if reporting safety violations means that workers are likely to lose their jobs, workers are not going to be willing to come forward regardless of MOM’s best attempts at encouraging reporting of safety violations.
Section 18(2) prevents an employer from dismissing an employee who assists authorities where there have been breaches of health and safety. Employees are required to report such instances through the Employment Act appeal mechanisms for unfair dismissal. However, there may be insufficient protection for low-wage migrant workers who can have their work permits cancelled and repatriated, with no opportunity to challenge their termination.
Is MOM able to share the number of employees that have successfully appealed an unfair dismissal under section 18(2)? Will the Minister consider additional safeguards such as requiring notification to MOM where workers are dismissed within two years of providing such assistance to authorities?
Lastly, in the course of providing direct service to injured migrant workers, civil society organisations often hear first-hand accounts of safety-related issues on worksites that lead to workplace injuries. While MOM’s inspections may find that vast majority of employers are compliant with safety and health requirements, there may be a group of recalcitrant employers with weak safety mindsets that is tarnishing workplace safety culture as a whole.
The first-hand accounts that civil society organisations have are valuable because they provide an insight into the practices of this group of employers, which will help MOM in focusing its efforts and resources in addressing the worst violations. I hope that MOM will increase its collaborations with civil society groups.
At the end of the day, of all the legislative change, regulatory amendments and work plans, the goal should be to improve the outcomes for the workers on the ground. Hearing first-hand accounts from the workers is the best way of gauging the effectiveness of our policies and efforts.
I am encouraged by the bold plan MOM has articulated to improve workplace health and safety, and look forward to the steps that can be taken to achieve our objective of becoming a centre of excellence that WSH 2018 Plus envisions.
Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee): Mr Speaker, I stand in support of this Bill. Let me speak in particular for a group of workers who are more at risk in terms of workplace injuries, and these are our foreign workers. This House that we are debating in, this very Chamber, was built by many foreign workers who come to Singapore in search of a better life for their own loved ones back in their own countries. They come with hopes and aspirations, after having paid their agents exorbitant amounts of money or perhaps having sold off jewellery, ancestral land, just to get here, they slog day and night, forgoing off days and working countless hours of overtime, just to earn that little extra. But when it all comes crashing down, their dreams die – theirs and their loved ones as well.
The loss of a life is irreplaceable, whoever it may be. As the Minister of State said in his opening statement, one is too many. Therefore, I welcome and support the changes proposed in the WSH (Amendment) Bill. Workplace safety is for all workers in Singapore. I therefore stand fully behind the Ministry’s decision to set up Total Workplace Safety and Health Service Centres in Singapore. And I hope that the pilot project at Woodlands would be successful in implementing workplace safety and health programmes for workers. If it takes off, we can look forward to more of such centres in industrial areas around Singapore.
However, returning to the case of foreign workers, I believe that they are also eligible for more training. I wish to ask the Ministry if the training provided for our foreign workers at their countries of origin is sufficient at the current moment. How are the courses conducted and do we do sufficient audits that the workers have adequate understanding of the materials provided to them? I understand that several training centres are already set up in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Myanmar to introduce workers to basic construction techniques. Does the Ministry know how successful the scheme has been and how many workers have benefited from this training? Also, how many of them are still in Singapore, working in industries relevant to the training that they had received?
I also wonder if the Ministry conducts aptitude tests for our registered foreign workers here in Singapore, especially those in the construction industry, to see if they have the right fit. These workers are hardworking, I have no doubt about it, but would it not be better if we could ascertain that they are also up to the task, both mentally and physically, as well as technically?
If they are prepared to voice concerns regarding safety at their workplaces, because they are adequately equipped with such information, it would make for better and safer work environment. However, I am certain that many, in fear of preserving their own rice bowls, may muzzle their comments or feedback in fear of reprisals from their supervisors, managers, or employers. If only a worker had voiced concerns about unsafe practices, many industrial accidents and loss of lives could have been prevented.
I am suggesting that unsafe workplace practices have been carried out on different worksites, and perhaps with the knowledge of workers. Therefore, the incident learning report, as required under this amendment to the Bill, would be a welcome one. However, I have concerns on this.
I would like to draw attention to the fact that if two teams are working on the findings − one, to draw up an incident learning report and another to determine criminal liability − how would the agencies concerned separate the different findings if they should draw different conclusions? Therefore, I would like to hear the Ministry's views on this.
A higher deterrent, as introduced in the supplementary legislation, raising from $200,000 to $500,000, is a step in the right direction. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Opening of the World Congress of Safety and Health at Work on 3 September this year said that Singapore hopes to reduce the number of incidents at the workplace to less than one worker per 100,000 in 10 years' time.
Today, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland have already achieved that target. Singapore's workplace fatality rate currently stands at 1.9 deaths per 100,000 workers. Therefore, we have a lot of catching up to do.
The integration of Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) training standards is laudable. I would be grateful if the Ministry could advise if the transfer of accreditation to SSG is smooth at the current moment and if the numbers are on track. Do the companies meet the requirements as set out by SSG and how many training providers are we looking at, at a steady state.
Mr Speaker, Sir, safety concerns all workers in Singapore. Families want assurances that their loved ones return home safe from work every day. The Amendment Bill is a step in the right direction and while I support the Bill, I would appreciate if the Ministry could address my concerns, as stated in my speech earlier. And while some of the suggestions I have made may lie outside the ambit of this current Bill, I hope that they will be considered under WSH 2028 for future amendments.
Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong: Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for Manpower, let me first thank all the Members who have spoken in support of the Bill. I will now address the specific issues that have been raised.
Mr Patrick Tay and Mr Melvin Yong asked for examples of accidents which will merit a learning report. Mr Tay was particularly concerned that a learning report may prejudice legal proceedings and Government investigations. Both Mr Tay and Ms Thanaletchimi felt that a learning report may result in preconceived positions or biases in witnesses and the public. Mr Alex Yam asked if there is any conflict of interest between MOM's criminal investigation and the learning report. I would like to thank all these Members for raising the pertinent points. And now, let me address them specifically.
First, learning reports will not be issued for all workplace accidents, only those where the learning value from early sharing can prevent potential serious accidents in other companies. This means accidents that are complex, where the risks are not well-understood and have the potential for serious harm.
In November 2013, a flash fire occurred in an incineration plant. Three workers suffered burn injuries and the whole plant was razed almost to the ground. Even nearby companies were affected by the fire. It was extremely fortunate that no one had died. The flash fire was caused by the mixing of incompatible chemicals, a process also practised in other companies, but where the risks were not well-understood. Even though we completed our investigation in October 2014, 11 months after the accident, we had to wait a further 16 months before we could share the findings when criminal court proceedings concluded in February 2016.
During that 16 months, two incidents occurred in other companies that had similar processes. If companies had been more aware of the risks of incompatible chemical mixing, they would have taken preventive measures, by reviewing their testing procedures and installing detection equipment. Fortunately, both were smaller scale incidents that did not result in serious harm, but they could have escalated into major incidents with dire consequences. Therefore, it is essential in the public interest to share the detailed facts and lessons from such incidents as soon as possible, so that others can be more informed, and their lives are protected.
Second, as I have stated earlier, the learning report is inadmissible in any civil, criminal, disciplinary, arbitral or work injury compensation proceedings. Learning reports will therefore not prejudice such proceedings. This includes disciplinary proceedings in companies, as cited by Mr Tay. Any company can conduct their own investigation and take disciplinary actions according to their own findings. However, any worker who considers that he has been unfairly dismissed can appeal to MOM.
Sir, there is no conflict between MOM preparing a learning report and conducting a criminal investigation, as they have different goals and objectives. Learning reports explain what factors caused the accident, such as incompatible chemical mixing. They do not pinpoint who was at fault or assign liability to the parties involved.
For inquiries under the WSH Act and the Inquiries Act, separate learning reports will not be needed in those circumstances as the full and official inquiries would have been conducted by the Inquiry Committees. For inquiries under the Coroners Act, they are only to determine the cause of death or identity of the deceased. Under the Coroners Act, the inquiry shall not determine any question of criminal, civil or disciplinary liability. In any case, any learning report admitted into evidence in a Coroner's Inquiry will not be admissible in any subsequent criminal proceedings.
Mr Tay asked how learning reports will be disseminated, and Mr Yong suggested to share only with relevant industry players, as such releases may negatively affect businesses. We will assess the extent of sharing for each learning report on a case by case basis. Where the report is relevant only for a particular group of companies, such as if the risks are due to specialised processes found only in these companies, we will share the report with the specific companies concerned. Where the report can improve safety and health in many companies, we will share the report on the WSH Council website for the wider public interest.
We believe the sharing of learning reports will help prevent further accidents. Any major accident will have implications on companies' reputation. Weighing reputational cost against the cost of human lives, I think all of us will agree that the top priority must be to save lives. Sharing learning reports should therefore outweigh other considerations. So, for companies, the best way to avoid reputational damage is to be serious in taking the necessary WSH measures to prevent accidents.
Ms Thanaletchimi and Mr Yam asked if the increased penalty of fines of $50,000 sufficiently deters the loss of lives, while Mr Choo asked about the treatment of errant companies for public tenders. I would like to clarify that when companies commit offences that result in death, we will usually prosecute under the WSH Act, where the maximum fine is $500,000, or $1 million for a repeat offence. The increased penalty of $50,000 is for offences committed under the Subsidiary Legislation, typically when no harm has occurred yet.
Other than penalties under the WSH Act, errant companies can be placed into the Business Under Surveillance (BUS) Programme or BUS Programme, and are subjected to the Demerit Point System which restricts their access to foreign manpower. Public agencies already take into account bidders' safety record, such as demerit points and BUS Programme, in their procurement assessment. From January 2018, the non-price weightage in the Price-Quality Tender Evaluation Method, which includes safety performance, will be raised from around 30% currently, to between 40% and 60%, for building construction projects valued at $3 million or more.
Mr Tay and Mr Yong asked what offences under the Subsidiary Legislation (SL) would be prescribed the increased $50,000 maximum fine. Mr Louis Ng asked if this will include offences leading to occupational diseases.
The $50,000 maximum fine will apply to breaches that could reasonably cause or result in death, serious bodily injury or dangerous occurrence. In addition to the offences cited earlier, they would include failure to provide personal protective equipment for hazardous work, failure to implement a WSH management system or plans for safe work environment and procedures, failure to inspect critical equipment such as cranes, scaffolds and formwork, as well as not ensuring workers have the necessary training for their role.
Offences that may result in occupational diseases, such as failure to effectively enclose asbestos work areas, or failure to take measures to protect workers from toxic dust, fumes or other contaminants will also be included.
Mr Choo and Mr Yam asked for an update on the migration of WSH training providers' accreditation to SSG. So far, 23 of the 56 WSH courses have been successfully migrated to the WSQ Framework. Of the Approved Training Providers (ATPs) initially providing the 23 courses, 62%, or 41 of them, were successfully appointed under the WSQ Framework for WSH Courses. Unsuccessful ATPs can still participate in future accreditation exercises where appropriate, for the remaining 33 WSH courses. So, those unsuccessful ATPs can still try to meet the criteria set by SSG on these remaining 33 courses. We encourage them to review their operations and delivery capabilities for the courses to meet SSG's accreditation framework.
There was no disruption to training capacity due to the migration. SSG considers the ability of WSQ accredited training providers to meet industry demand in the accreditation process. SSG will work with training providers to ramp up training capacity if needed. There was also no increase in WSH course fees to businesses.
Mr Tay and Mr Yong asked how the quality of workplace safety and health curriculum and training content will be maintained under SSG, with MOM being the subject matter experts on WSH. Mr Tay also suggested that curriculum development should be done through close engagements with the industry associations and practitioners, unions and workers. I agree with their views and I am happy to report that this is indeed the approach taken for developing the WSH curriculum and its contents.
MOM and WSH Council, where the tripartite partners are represented, will continue to be closely involved in the WSH training curriculum. As the national authority on WSH, MOM is partnering SSG in developing and incorporating updated WSH skills into the Skills Frameworks of relevant industries.
Mr Tay recommended that training providers leverage on technology to ensure greater accessibility to training, such as virtual reality to enable learning in a safe yet realistic environment. Under SSG, training providers are encouraged to use innovative training approaches through technology.
Mr Yam asked if training centres set up in source countries sufficiently introduce foreign workers to basic construction techniques and also enquired on the retention rate for trained construction workers.
Since 2005, it has been mandatory for foreign construction workers to be trained at Overseas Testing Centres, and to pass a basic skills evaluation test conducted by BCA officers, before they can start working in Singapore. The testing by BCA allows only those workers who have been trained sufficiently, through demonstrating trade knowledge and practical craft-skills, to join our construction industry.
Mr Yam further asked if MOM conducts aptitude tests for construction workers. MOM complements the overseas testing by BCA with mandatory safety orientation training for all construction workers in Singapore. The two-day mandatory Construction Safety Orientation Course (CSOC) equips workers with the relevant safety competencies and safety mindset to perform their duties and roles.
Mr Yong expressed caution about the additional costs of all these amendments for businesses. For companies already complying with the existing WSH requirements, there should not be any additional costs incurred.
However, and also rightfully so, that these changes should spur errant companies to be more serious in their WSH efforts. Every workplace accident exacts costs not only on the employer but also, importantly, on the workers and their families, a point that had been reiterated by quite a number of Members.
Measures to create safe and healthy workplaces go beyond monetary costs. It is about ensuring that everyone is able to return home from work safe and healthy every day. I think this is the basic right of every worker.
Mr Ng raised various issues outside the scope of the Bill amendment. Nonetheless, I will address them as these touch on other provisions in the WSH Act. The vast majority of MOM's safety inspections are surprise inspections. More than 90% are surprise inspections. For cases where we give early notice, it is to encourage self-rectification. In such cases, we do not provide the exact date and time. And even after the first inspection we will follow up with surprise inspections to check that WSH practices are sustained by the company management and workers. Our WSH inspectors do check on plans to manage workers' fatigue as well as on working hour violations.
Employers are responsible for providing safety equipment and training, and for ensuring workers understand machinery operating instructions. It is illegal under the WSH Act for employers to deduct safety equipment and training costs from their workers' salaries. It is illegal under our Act. During MOM's inspections, we also ask workers to surface any salary deductions including for the provision of safety equipment. It is part of our inspection procedures and regime to check if workers understand operating instructions.
Protection for whistle-blowing is something both Mr Choo and Mr Ng touched on. It is an offence under the WSH Act to dismiss or threaten to dismiss whistle-blowers. Workers who face threats of unfair dismissal should approach MOM as soon as possible.
We agree with Mr Ng in partnering responsible civil society organisations to protect workers' welfare. Civil society organisations can help to protect our workers by immediately reporting any cases of concern they have come across to MOM directly so that we can investigate and take companies to task if warranted.
Members have also raised other important issues such as incentives for good WSH performance, greater focus on occupational diseases, workplace health and psychosocial issues, reporting by doctors, and introducing the use of more technology for WSH.
The total WSH (TWSH) movement initiated in 2014 has strengthened efforts to integrate safety with workplace health management, including occupational diseases and the psychosocial risk of workplace harassment. We have WSH Guidelines on Diagnosis and Management of Occupational Diseases. Tripartite partners will continue to work closely together to share learning and increase awareness of occupational diseases in workplace. MOM has also issued a Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment in 2015 which serve as a practical guide for employers on how to prevent workplace harassment, and for employees on where to seek help.
For reporting, doctors can already submit an incident report directly to MOM online or in person. However, I would like to emphasise that the primary responsibility to report accidents should rightfully rest with the employer. We should not lessen this responsibility on the part of the employer.
Technology indeed can be an enabler to improve WSH. We have, for example, mandated the installation of data loggers in mobile cranes, and this is supported by up to $5,000 funding per crane from the MOM, which has improved the mobile crane safety. We have recently launched the inaugural WSH Technology Challenge with up to $2 million in Government support to invite solutions from companies to improve work-related vehicular safety. We will use more of such platforms to drive technology adoption to improve industry WSH practices.
Many of the Members' suggestions and ideas are excellent, and will be discussed further with the tripartite and industry partners in the formulation of our WSH 2028 strategic plan. We believe that such close collaboration will enable us to reach our common goal of making all workplaces safer and healthier. For those Members, where your points are not addressed today, rest assured that MOM will consider your ideas in our formulation of the WSH 2028 plan.