Released yesterday by the Manpower Ministry, new statistics revealed a jump in construction-related deaths this year – 17 in the first half, with eight cases in January alone, up from 11 in the same period last year. Major injury cases also leaped 15 percent this period from last year to 71 cases.

TODAY reported (Building boom ‘having impact on worker safety’, 4 July 2014) “industry sources” pointing to several causal factors leading to these increases, namely the construction boom and a shortage of workers unable to handle such demand.

Sketching the multiple factors, the article pointed out:

Apart from fatigue from working overtime, they pointed to the higher monthly foreign worker levies which have not only reduced the foreign manpower at companies’ disposal, but also contributed to a rush to to finish jobs in order to keep a lid on project costs — potentially compromising workers’ safety. Other reasons include new workers’  unfamiliarity with the job.

Further down in the article,

Having workers work into the night could cause fatigue, said SC2 general manager Loh Yeow Leng, who has been auditing the safety measures of construction firms for the past 15 years. “When you are less alert, sometimes even (when) walking on flat ground, you can easily trip and fall. (Regardless of) how well the housekeeping is, there are always chances of trips and falls, which can easily cause quite a serious accident,” he said.

Then there are causal factors such as the higher monthly worker levies and new workers unfamiliarity with working with heights.

When interviewed, industry players such as president for Singapore Contractors Association, Dr Ho Nyok Yong, and others pointed out negative consequences of a rush to complete jobs to reduce project costs, thereby compromising worker safety.

The increasing construction demand, pegged at $35.8 billion last year, has squeezed project deadlines with limited manpower. Additionally, work time is reduced when stopped during weekends to reduce noise levels in built-up areas. Coupled with lesser renewals of worker levies to save costs, workers end up working in fatigue conditions and into the night.

Managing director for Unison Construction, Tan Soon Kian, points out the tendency for contractors to rush risk assessment exercises, an attitude he notes has contributed to lax safety standards.

Member of Parliament, Mr Zainudin Nordin, Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower has called for joint solutions by government agencies, contractors, developers and workers to better the situation.

“People have been talking about needing more workers, so I can understand. But whether it is directly related to performance or the workers or the lapses, we don’t have a direct correlation…I think it is better for us not to speculate,” he noted.

TWC2 notes that the article doesn’t mention the real possibility that many non-fatal workplace accidents aren’t even reported. Several stories on this site recount how employers deny that workers’  injuries were due to workplace accidents. Besides trying to limit their liabilities for medical treatment, MC wages and compensation for permanent incapacity, workers have a strong suspicion that employers also do not want to admit that an accident occurred at their worksite.