On July 19, 2010,in the wake of yet another fatal accident, Minister for Transport Raymond Lim announced in Parliament that the deadline for previously-announced safety measures is to be brought forward.

Here is a record of the July 19 statement in response of questions by members of parliament:

13. Mr Christopher de Souza asked the Minister for Transport in light of the deaths of three foreign workers arising from an expressway accident on 22nd June 2010 (a) what measures will be implemented to ensure the safety of foreign workers being transported to and from work on their employers’ vehicles; (b) how will these measures help minimise injury and how quickly will they be implemented; and (c) whether the Ministry will consider legislating that employers must transport their workers in mini buses or buses with compulsory seat-belting.

14. Mr Yeo Guat Kwang asked the Minister for Transport (a) if the recently introduced measures to enhance the safety of workers transported on lorries should be effected sooner instead of the phased approach; (b) whether the deadline for compulsory installation of higher side-rails on existing lorries should be brought forward rather than wait till 2012; (c) whether the current number of buses/minibuses is sufficient to meet the transportation needs of the industry; and (d) whether the Ministry will consider supporting businesses who wish to convert to bus transportation in the near future by providing incentives/subsidies.

15. Mdm Halimah Yacob asked the Minister for Transport (a) whether the Ministry will consider bringing forward the deadline for introducing new safety measures for the transport of workers on lorries that were supposed to be introduced by 2012; (b) what enforcement action will be taken against errant employers who fail to comply with safety rules when transporting workers; and (c) what are the immediate steps taken to provide better protection to workers pending the introduction of new safety measures.

16. Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked the Minister for Transport (a) if the Ministry will consider bringing forward the proposed measures to have higher protective side railings and canopies for lorries which will only take effect in 2012; and (b) whether there are plans for interim measures such as public education for transport operators who ferry workers.

17. Dr Lam Pin Min asked the Minister for Transport (a) what are the underlying reasons for the spate of accidents involving foreign workers transported in lorries; and (b) whether the speed limit for vehicles used in transporting workers can be further reduced to make travelling on these vehicles safer.
The Minister for Transport (Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat): Sir, with your permission, can I take Question Nos. 13 to 17 together as they are related to the same matter?

Mr Speaker: Okay.

Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat: Mr Speaker, Sir, this is an issue that the Government takes seriously. Last year, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Teo Ser Luck explained in this House that the safety measures in place and enforcement efforts have generally been effective in keeping the fatality and injury rates of passengers carried at the back of lorries low. Nonetheless, a workgroup led by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) recommended a series of measures to further enhance the safety of workers transported on lorries.

Most of the measures were implemented on 1st September 2009 and 1st January 2010. Enforcement records showed there has generally been a high level of compliance to these safety rules. There has been on average a 50% fall in the number of violations of these rules in the first four months of this year, compared to the last four months of last year. The accident statistics during the 10-month period before and after the new measures were implemented show that the injury cases have reduced by about 17%. However, for fatality cases, it is too early to draw conclusions given the very small numbers involved, with three cases for the 10 months before 1st September 2009, and three cases for the 10 months after, all of which happened on the unfortunate 22nd June accident.

There are two remaining measures from the workgroup recommendations that we had planned to implement on 1st September 2012. They are: first, all lorries used to ferry workers must be fitted with canopies and higher side railings. This has been a requirement for all newly-registered lorries since 1st January 2010, and was to be extended to existing lorries on 1st September 2012. Second, the minimum deck space requirement per seated worker will be doubled from four to eight square feet. A longer lead time was given to these two measures to allow businesses to phase in their operational changes and make decisions on their existing assets.

Since the fatal lorry accident on 22nd June, LTA has reviewed the situation and identified four areas through which to further enhance the safety of workers on lorries. They are:

(i) vehicle-safety related measures,

(ii) driver-related measures,

(iii) enforcement and penalties, and

(iv) public education.

On vehicle-safety related measures, Mr Christopher de Souza, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Mdm Halimah Yacob and Dr Lim Wee Kiak have asked whether these remaining two measures should be brought forward. We have decided that it would be prudent to do so, and it will be done as follows:

(i) All light lorries used to transport workers will have to be fitted with canopies and higher side railings within the next six months, that is, by 1st February 2011. Heavy lorries used to transport workers will need to comply by 1st August 2011.

(ii) The doubling of the minimum deck space requirement per seated worker to eight square feet will be implemented for both light and heavy lorries by 1st August 2011.

The requirement for canopies and higher side railings is being phased in as there are capacity constraints in our local workshops. We have looked at the accident statistics which show that 75% of lorry accidents resulting in fatalities to workers involve light lorries. Also, light lorries, as compared to heavier lorries, are generally less able to withstand the forces of collisions in an accident. As such, we have put priority for light lorries to be retrofitted first.

Besides the vehicle safety-related measures which would help minimise the extent of injuries when accidents do occur, the drivers also play a crucial role in transporting the workers safely. The Traffic Police (TP) already has a strict enforcement regime and penalty framework against errant drivers who speed, drive recklessly or dangerously. In response to Dr Lam Pin Min’s suggestion on reducing the speed limit of lorries which transport workers, it is not recommended as it will increase the speed differential between lorries and other vehicles on expressways and this will itself give rise to other safety issues. Our focus should be on ensuring that drivers keep to the existing speed limits and drive safely. Hence, besides enforcement which I will touch on shortly, LTA and TP will explore the use of technologies and devices to better control speeding by lorries used for carrying workers. Also, to ensure that foreign drivers who ferry workers or goods in the course of their work are fully competent and familiar with driving on our roads, the Ministries of Home Affairs and Manpower will develop and implement more stringent conditions for licensing these drivers. The details on these measures will be announced when they are ready.

LTA and TP have also stepped up their enforcement efforts and will continue to take strict enforcement action against errant drivers. Resources will be increased to sustain the stepped-up level of enforcement. Penalties for speeding and non-compliance with vehicle safety rules will be enhanced with higher fines as well as demerit points for greater deterrence. In addition, appropriate legal actions will be taken against both the employers and the drivers depending on the nature of the offence. The details will be announced in due course.

LTA, TP and MOM, together with industry stakeholders, will continue public education efforts on road safety as well as develop targeted programmes such as safety talks, videos and posters for various stakeholder groups to raise awareness of the safety regulations for lorries carrying workers.

Mr de Souza has asked whether the Ministry will consider legislating that employers must transport their workers in buses. The measures that are in place, and to be effected in the next year, would help to achieve the desired objective of mitigating the risks of workers who need to travel on lorries in the course of their work. We should allow the measures to improve workers’ safety on lorries to take effect and study their effectiveness before concluding that they are insufficient and going for a ban.

The efforts put in by all the relevant agencies underscore the Government’s concern about the safety of workers transported on lorries. Employers and drivers must also play their part as safety is also their responsibility as well.

Mdm Halimah Yacob: Sir, I would like to thank the Minister particularly for agreeing to bring forward the deadline for implementing the two measures as well as the various other measures that he has mentioned. I certainly feel that that would somehow help in improving the safety for workers being transported in lorries. However, I do have three questions for the Minister.

First, I would like to ask Minister when the stringent licensing conditions for the foreign drivers will be introduced. I think that is an important consideration. Secondly, I would like to ask the Minister whether the Ministry would consider other than the measures already mentioned, making it a requirement for these lorries to install safety belts so as to further minimise injuries and deaths. Thirdly, I would like to ask the Minister whether he could also impose the same deadline of six months for the measures to kick in, with regard to the heavy vehicles, rather than make a distinction between light and heavy lorries.

Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat: On the Member’s first question on when the stringent licensing regime will come in place, this is something which the Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Home Affairs are currently working on. They will announce it when ready but they are studying this carefully. On whether we could put in safety belt for lorries, the workgroup actually studied and considered this and consulted safety experts on this. But the conclusion was if we were to put safety belts for lorries which were supposed to carry goods, it might actually create other safety issues, and cause different types of injuries to those being carried. His last question was whether we could impose the same six months timeline for heavy lorries. We studied this. It is really a question of capacity. If we could, we would have done it but we are trying to do the bulk. So about 60% will be done in six months and the remainder, a little later or few months later.

Mr Christopher de Souza: Mr Speaker, I echo Mdm Halimah Yacob’s thanks to the Minister for Transport in bringing forward the deadlines. I think it shows the resolve the Ministry has in taking this matter seriously. The Minister mentioned penalties, and with that, the discussion on demerit points. But would the Minister consider a penalty to the employer if there is indeed a fatality or serious injury on the way to work, in terms that it may affect the quota or number of people he could employ in future?

When you pass a worksite, there is a billboard which says number of fatalities and the number of workers that are injured. Could we institute regulations so that employers will need to also display the number of workers that have been injured on the way to and from work on that billboard as a deterrent?

Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat: The Member’s question is about the penalty framework, whether or not it should also be applied to employers. This is something that we are looking at. I think I mentioned in my reply that it is not just penalties on the drivers but also on the employers because we recognise that sometimes the employers are equally culpable in the non-compliance of the safety rules. The Member’s other suggestion was whether or not we are going to put up notice boards at worksites.

Mr Christopher de Souza: It is a worksite billboard which already exists.

Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat: I will pass that suggestion to the Ministry of Manpower and they could have a look at whether or not this will act as another deterrent.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang): I thank the Minister for his reply to my Question. I would like to ask the Minister with regard to the insurance for these workers especially when they are injured or when lives are lost: what kind of coverage do they have now? Will the Minister be looking into increasing the insurance coverage of these workers who are transported on lorries?

My second question is whether the Minister will consider putting a ban to prevent these lorries from using expressways because expressways have stipulated speed limits. Even if you lower the speed, these lorries are going at faster and faster speeds with time.

Mr Raymond Lim Siang Keat: I will take the second question first. We already have a speed limit. Actually, the speed limit is now 60 kilometres per hour. I think that helps to reduce injuries to workers when there is a collision. The Member’s other point is on insurance coverage. We now have a Workmen’s Compensation Act, and I think that should be covered under the Act.