Roles and responsibilities under Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Act

Ministry of Manpower extends heightened safety period for further three months

Roles and responsibilities under Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Act

In order to address the rise in workplace fatalities in Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) initially introduced a heightened safety period commencing on 1 September 2022 for a period of six months. The heightened safety period represented a period of time in which the MOM would work together with and support companies in taking greater ownership of workplace safety and health.

The MOM also implemented measures to assist with this, such as barring companies with unsafe workplace conditions following serious workplace accidents from employing new foreign employees and requiring companies to conduct a mandatory “Safety Time-Out” to review their safety procedures.

Since the start of 2023, there have been four workplace fatalities, and the MOM has now taken the step of extending the heightened safety period for a further three months starting from 1 March 2023. There are other additional measures that have been put in place during the extended heightened safety period, including an increase in the maximum fines from S$20,000 to S$50,000 for breaches of the Workplace Safety and Health Act 2006 (WSH Act) and its subsidiary legislation, which could result in death or serious bodily injury.

In addition, for companies that have been found to have serious workplace safety and health lapses following serious or fatal workplace accidents, the Chief Executive Officers and board of directors of such companies will be required to attend a mandatory half-day in-person workplace safety and health training course.

In light of this growing focus on addressing the rise in workplace injuries and fatalities, we discuss, in this article, certain key roles and capacities identified in the WSH Act and the various duties and responsibilities with respect to workplace safety and health that are imposed on persons (which may be entities or individuals) in such roles and capacities.

Key roles under the WSH Act

The WSH Act identifies a number of capacities or roles in which duties or liabilities may be imposed on persons in such capacities or roles. These include the capacities as an employer, a contractor, a subcontractor, a principal, a self-employed person, and an occupier of a workplace. For the purposes of this article, we will be looking specifically at persons in the capacity as: an employer; a principal; and an occupier.

It should be noted that a person may, at any time, be two or more of the listed capacities, and that the WSH Act may, at any one time, impose the same duty or liability on two or more persons, whether in the same capacity or in different capacities.

Capacity as employer: The WSH Act defines an “employer” as a person who, in the course of that person’s trade, business, profession or undertaking, employs any person to do any work under a contract of service. In addition to the usual employment relationships that would be covered by this definition, the WSH Act also provides that, where a person carries on any work in a factory, then the occupier of the factory is deemed to be the employer of that person, unless the occupier of the factory can prove otherwise. In such a situation, where the occupier of the factory is unable to prove that the occupier is not the employer, then the provisions of the WSH Act would apply as if the occupier of the factory were the employer.

It is the duty of every employer to take, so far as is reasonably practicable, such measures as are necessary to ensure the safety and health of the employer’s employees at work. With respect to this duty, the WSH Act states that the measures necessary to ensure the safety and health of persons at work include, inter alia:

  • providing and maintaining for those persons a work environment which is safe, without risk to health, and adequate as regards to facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work
  • ensuring that adequate safety measures are taken in respect of any machinery, equipment, plant, article or process used by those persons
  • ensuring that those persons are not exposed to hazards arising out of arrangement, disposal, manipulation, organisation, processing, storage, transport, working or use of things in their workplace or near their workplace and under the control of the employer.

In addition to employees, it should also be highlighted that employers are under a duty to take, so far as is reasonably practicable, such measures as are necessary to ensure the safety and health of persons (not being the employer’s employees) who may be affected by any undertaking carried on by the employer in the workplace.

Capacity as principal: The WSH Act defines a “principal” as a person who, in connection with any trade, business, profession or undertaking carried on by that person, engages any other person otherwise than under a contract of service:

  • to supply any labour for gain or reward or
  • to do any work for gain or reward.

The WSH Act provides that it is the duty of every principal to take, so far as reasonably practicable, such measures as are necessary to ensure the safety and health of:

  • any contractor engaged by the principal when at work
  • any direct or indirect subcontractor engaged by such contractor when at work
  • any employee employed by such contractor or subcontractor when at work.

However, this duty shall only apply where the contractor, subcontractor or employee is working under the direction of the principal as to the manner in which the work is carried out. Where this duty applies, the measures necessary to ensure the safety and health of persons at work are the same as the measures that an employer needs to take to ensure the safety and health of the employer’s employees at work (as set out above, in the “Capacity as employer” section).

Apart from the above, the WSH Act also imposes additional duties on principals, along with the corresponding measures to be taken.

Capacity as occupier: An “occupier” under the WSH Act, is defined in terms of whether the workplace premises (or any part thereof) is a factory or not. Where the premises is anything other than a factory, the “occupier” is the person who has charge, management or control of those premises either on his own account, or as an agent of another person, whether or not he is also the owner of those premises.

Where the premises is that of a factory, then:

  • in the case of a factory where a certificate of registration has to be obtained in relation to the premises pursuant to any regulations, the “occupier” is the person who is, or is required to be, the holder of the certificate or permit
  • in the case of a factory where a notification has to be submitted in relation to the factory pursuant to any regulations, the “occupier” is the person who is named in the notification, or is required to submit a notification.

It is the duty of every occupier to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, that:

  • the workplace
  • all means of access to, or egress from, the workplace
  • any machinery, equipment, plant, article or substance kept on the workplace,

are safe and without risk to health to every person within those premises, whether or not the person is at work or is an employee of the occupier.

Closing thoughts

In light of the further extension to the heightened safety period and the additional measures that have been put in place by the MOM to address the rise in workplace fatalities, it is imperative for companies to take a close look at their current workplace safety and health policies, and ensure that they are meeting the required standard and satisfying the duties imposed under the WSH Act.

With closer scrutiny on safety and health practices by the MOM and increasing penalties, fines and ramifications for WSH Act breaches, companies must place greater emphasis on ensuring that they are fully compliant in whatever roles and capacities they find themselves in.

Marian Ho is a senior partner in Dentons Rodyk’s corporate practice group in Singapore. Sean Gallagher is a senior legal executive in Dentons Rodyk’s corporate practice group in Singapore.

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