Member of Parliament Louis Ng put in an oral question for oral answer on 19 February 2018, on the topic of injury reporting. Sam Tan, the Minister of State for Manpower replied on behalf of the minister. Nominated Member of Parliament K Thanaletchimi also contributed a supplementary question during the debate.

See too TWC2’s comment at the bottom.

From the Hansard:

Parliament, 19 Feb 2018

Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang
asked the Minister for Manpower (a) what is the number of workplace injuries reported in the past five years; and (b) whether the Ministry will consider adopting a system of workplace injury reporting based on (i) diagnosis of a specified list of common work-related injuries requiring medical treatment and (ii) requirement of treatment in a hospital without any time threshold such as used in the US (Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970), Australia (Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004) and the UK (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013).

The Minister of State for Manpower (Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong) (for the Minister for Manpower):
Sir, under the Workplace Safety and Health (Incident Reporting) Regulations, it is mandatory for employers to report work-related accidents where the employee was given more than three days of sick leave, or hospitalised for at least 24 hours. In the last five years, an average of about 12,800 such workplace injuries were reported to MOM every year. The number has been stable over this period.

Our reporting criteria are aligned to international practices which focus on reporting injuries that are more serious. In fact, ours is similar to that of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). This EU regulation also requires reporting of any injury that results in more than three days of sick leave. The reporting regimes in other countries also do not require all injuries to be reported. For example in the UK, beyond the prescribed list of reportable injuries, such as fractures, amputations, burns or blindness, all other injuries are only reportable if the sick leave is seven days or more. Hence, our reporting regime of three days or more is actually more robust. The UK also requires the injury to be reportable if it results in hospitalisation for more than 24 hours, which is similar to our reporting regime.

Our incident reporting criteria of more than three days’ sick leave and hospitalisation for more than 24 hours would already cover the more serious injuries that other jurisdictions deem reportable. Hence, our regime is comparable and equally robust as the other developed countries.

Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Nee Soon):
I thank the Minister of State for the response. I just have two supplementary questions.

How does MOM know whether there is currently under-reporting of workplace injuries? Second, has MOM come across cases where doctors issue less than three days of medical certificate (MC), so that the employer does not need to report the work injury to MOM, and what steps MOM will be taking to address this?

Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong:
Mr Speaker, Sir, I thank the Member for the two supplementary questions.

First, on the under-reporting. We have been monitoring the workplace injuries reporting since the scheme was revised in 2014. Our assessment and observation, and also through our contacts with the companies and workers, suggest that there is no evidence of widespread under-reporting. But, of course, we cannot assume that there will not be any under-reporting. But our assessment is under-reporting is still constituting the minority.

In any way, under our regime, even if the employers do not report any workplace incidents, the workers themselves can approach and report the injuries or incidents to MOM. For cases that are reported to MOM, we will take a look at the situation and then we will take appropriate actions. In the last one year, there were close to 1,900 workers who report their injuries directly to MOM because they were not so sure whether their employers had made a report. So, within our system, there is already a regime and also a discipline where we can ensure that the workers can report on their injuries even if their employers do not.

As for the Member’s second supplementary question, the issue has been addressed in 2014 when we reviewed and revised our incident reporting regime. In 2014, we had decided and we had changed the regulation to ensure that even if a doctor gives two days of MC and then have a break in between, and then issue another two days of MC and so on, MOM will still deem all these injuries or MCs as reportable incidents, so long as the accumulative MCs is three days or more.

If any doctors are found to have adopted this practice of issuing two days of MC, then have a break of one day in between, and then issue another one or two days of MC, if we come across such cases, we will investigate. And if it is a practice for the employers to avoid reporting the incidents to MOM, we will refer the doctors to the Singapore Medical Council for follow-up actions.

Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Nee Soon):
Can I ask the Minister of State when is the next time this regulation is going to be reviewed? And during that review, whether MOM will consider adopting a system of workplace injury reporting similar to those of the US, UK and Australia?

Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong:
I thank the Member for the further supplementary question. As I mentioned just now, the Workplace Safety and Health Incident Reporting regulation was reviewed in 2014, which is about three years ago. We have been monitoring the implementation of this revised scheme and we have found it to be working quite well so far.

But of course, as a policy matter, policy review is always a work in progress. We will continue to review and monitor the situation. If there is a need to further review it in the future, we will certainly do so. When we conduct the next review, we will certainly take reference from international best practices including the countries mentioned by the Member – the UK, US, Australia and so on. We will study them together with other countries’ best practices. We will adopt the most relevant, practicable and reasonable ones to be incorporated and further strengthen our reporting regime.

Ms K Thanaletchimi (Nominated Member):
In regards to near-misses, is the Ministry considering mandatory reporting of near-misses of certain specific injuries since they are quite frequently happening at workplaces? And how do we encourage employers to document near-misses or register near-misses to MOM?

Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong:
Sir, I thank the Member for making a very important point here. This is, in fact, one of the priorities of MOM going forward, in ensuring better workplace safety and health.

Right now, we have been focusing on the downstream workplace reporting and so on, but actually, the more important aspect is to move upstream, to encourage workers and employers to report near-misses within the company reporting system. In the last few months, we have been working closely with WHS Council to roll out plans to encourage our employers to take a more proactive approach in reporting near-misses in the workplaces. In that respect, we have developed a mobile app called SnapSAFE. Any company can download this app and use it as their internal reporting system, where their workers or any other employees can report near-misses to the management so as to give the management the opportunity to rectify all the potential risks at the workplace to prevent workplace injuries or fatalities from happening. That will be our direction going forward to encourage more proactive interventions at the upstream to make sure that all the downstream risks could be eliminated.

We have just rolled this out not so long ago. It is premature to talk about whether we want to mandate the companies to adopt near-misses reporting. But certainly, we will consider it if the need arises one day.

Comment by TWC2:

Sam Tan’s statement that our reporting standards are “similar to that of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work” is not quite correct once we view things in context. In Europe, there is no such thing as “light duties”. A worker is either on medical leave or he is not.

In Singapore, the middle option is much abused. “Light duties” when prescribed by a doctor here means that the employee has to go back to work, but the employer is requested not to assign heavy physical labour. More importantly, our injury reporting system does not require any reporting of injuries meriting “light duties”, so it is very tempting for employers to pressure doctors to issue light duty certificates rather than medical leave certificates to injured employees.

TWC2 has seen many cases where injured workers on light duty are left in the dorm to get bed rest for days and weeks. These employers do not demand they they show up at the workplace, which suggests that there was an understanding between the prescribing doctors and the employers that the workers were in no condition to go back to work, whatever the duties. So why didn’t the doctors prescribe full medical leave then?

Sam Tan also said “there is no evidence of widespread under-reporting”. Data patterns would contradict his statement. See this article Do MOM’s injury statistics hide more than they reveal?’.