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Boost worksite safety? It's a snap

Staff use cameras to capture hazards on site

Safety consultant Philip Au (right) briefs workers at a Changi Road construction site. -- ST PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN

DO NOT be surprised if you see staff at Gammon building sites taking photographs.

They are doing it for a good cause - their colleagues' safety.

The construction firm has asked its workers to identify and record potential hazards like staff failing to wear safety equipment.

Employees who spot hazards could receive a reward of $25. Those who caused them will be educated about the risks, but not penalised.

Senior safety manager Yeo Kim Hock said the firm also gets its subcontractors to send their staff for training at its safety centre.

He was speaking yesterday at a seminar to encourage companies to do more to prevent construction workers being killed or injured in falls.

Falls have been Singapore's top workplace killer for the last five years. Last year, they accounted for a third of 55 deaths at work.

Twelve workers have already fallen to their deaths this year - four of them from the construction sector.

Yesterday's seminar aimed to help tackle this problem by encouraging the bigger players in the industry, such as Gammon, to help their smaller counterparts.

It was organised by the Singapore Contractors Association Limited, which wants all its members to implement fall prevention plans by September.

These plans include guidelines on how to work safely at height by identifying hazards, information on personal protection equipment, and procedures when working from a height.

All construction and marine worksites in Singapore will have to put fall prevention plans in place by the end of the year.

The three-hour seminar was held at the association's headquarters in Bukit Merah.

About 80 people turned up, including supervisors, safety officials and managers from a mix of small, medium-sized and large construction firms.

One of the speakers was Mr Suresh Navaratnam, director of policy, information and corporate services of the occupational safety and health division at the Ministry of Manpower.

He told reporters that it is more important for firms to be aware of safety issues than scared of being punished.

For this reason, there are no specific laws surrounding working at height.

Mr Suresh said that measures currently in place to reduce the number of workers killed in falls include site visits organised by the industry.

These involve safety officials giving free consultations to firms.

But he added: 'There is never enough work done. The industry needs to take the lead.'

Sharing advice on safety

THE Straits Times went along with a senior safety consultant on a Safety Compliance Assistance Visit (SCAV) on Tuesday.

At one partially constructed 21/2-storey house in Siglap, just three loosely placed wooden planks formed the walking platform for workers within a 6m-high lift shaft in the making. Flimsy barricades that may give way when one leans on them formed protection for workers 4m high. Also, gaping holes at least 2m deep were left open.

Such safety hazards are not uncommon at smaller construction sites, said consultant Philip Au who conducted the visit. He has been going for such visits for about a year. He then pointed out the safety gaps to the safety officer present, and proceeded to debrief all six workers present.

Using materials from the SCAV van, he taught them how to properly anchor safety harnesses, and the difference between restraint belts and the harnesses. 'Lack of fencing is the No. 1 gap in these sites,' said Mr Au. He said this is usually because erecting a fence can take up to three hours, and workers feel pressured to get their work done fast.

Mr Steven Pang, a management coordinator at a site in Changi, whose workers receive basic personal protection equipment, said having anything more is good but not practical due to the costs involved.

The visits, initiated by the National Work at Height Taskforce in March last year, involve an assessment by Workplace Safety and Health professionals. Last year, over 1,200 sites were visited. The task force aims to visit 1,500 this year.

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