Poor health and safety? You could be banned from hiring new employees

MOM has ordered a mandatory 'Safety Time-Out' amid a 'Heightened Safety Period'

Poor health and safety? You could be banned from hiring new employees

Singapore-based companies found guilty of "serious" workplace safety and health (WSH) lapses may be prohibited from taking in new foreign employees, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), as part of the government's new measures to stamp out rising workplace fatalities.

In an announcement, MOM also said that senior management will have more responsibility in cases of lapses on workplace safety.

"If MOM finds serious WSH lapses such as unsafe workplace conditions or poor risk controls following serious or fatal workplace accidents, we may debar companies from employing new foreign employees for up to three months and require chief executives to personally account to MOM and take responsibility for rectifications," the ministry said in a statement.

The warning comes as the ministry records 36 workplace fatalities in 2022, which is already nearing the overall 37 fatalities for the whole 2021.

To ensure the safety of employees, the ministry declared a six-month "Heightened Safety" period starting September 1 until February 28, 2023, where companies are also required to carry out a mandatory "Safety Time-Out" to review their safety procedures.

These time-outs must be carried out between September 1 and 15, ordered the ministry, with the length "sufficiently long" to give companies time to review risks on their operations.

"Companies will be debarred from employing new foreign employees for one month if found to be non-compliant with the Safety Time-Out," warned MOM.

In addition, the ministry also announced that it will set up a Multi-Sectoral Workplace Safety Taskforce chaired by Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad.

"The taskforce will be able to tap on ideas and advice from an external experts panel, comprising industry representatives and WSH consultants," said MOM.

Read more: Singapore to host world's largest congress on workplace health and safety

Workplace safety for SMEs, construction sector

For small and medium enterprises, MOM said it will support their WSH practices through the expansion of StartSAFE, where employers can access consultants to help them identify risks and implement good practices.

For the construction sector, MOM said it will roll out a "harmonised set of disqualification criteria" across all public sector tenders on October 1, which will align evaluation criteria and temporarily disqualify contractors that have poor WSH practices from tenders.

On October 1, the ministry said it will also commence a revised demerit point system so they can give out more demerit points for companies with WSH breaches. Companies that reach the penalty thresholds will then be barred from hiring foreign employees for up to two years.

"MOM urges all employers and supervisors to place the utmost priority on the safety of their workers. All workers must also follow safety procedures, watch out for unsafe workplace practices, and bring them to the attention of supervisors and MOM," said the ministry in its announcement.

According to MOM, while there is pressure among employers to keep up with the recovering economy, workers' safety "cannot take a backseat."

"We will support companies who seek to strengthen workplace safety and will not hesitate to take action against companies with serious safety lapses and those found to be at fault for major workplace injuries and deaths," it said.

Read more: Singapore HR: Are you failing to support your staff?

Employers back new measures 

In response, the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) said it supports the new "heightened safety" measures from MOM to address the spike in workplace fatalities.

"Providing an unsafe workplace for employees could be more costly for employers due to work stoppages and loss of reputation," the SNEF said in a statement. "We cannot put a value to the loss of human lives."

According to the federation, chief executives should also take the lead of the safety time-outs to be carried out by their organisations.

"Leadership is important to develop a safety culture in the workplace. In addition, they should encourage and empower their employees to report any near misses and unsafe practices," said the SNEF.

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