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Is this a violation of worksite safety rules?

Andrew Loh

In the video that follows this article (see above), a worker submerges himself into a hole which apparently has flooded over. We are unsure how the hole became flooded or what the worker was trying to do by immersing himself into it.

The incident took place on 25 August at about 5.45pm, in an area in Yishun where upgrading works to HDB flats are being carried out, and where some new blocks are being built.

What we would like to ask are the following questions:

  1. Is this the standard operating procedure or task a worker is expected to undertake?
  2. In the video, the worker didn’t seem to have been equipped with any safety device before he immersed himself, at times completely submerged, into the hole. Is this a violation of worksite safety rules?
  3. The water in the hole is muddy. The water apparently reaches to the neck-level of the worker. Is there a risk of infection for the worker from bacteria or of him contracting soil disease?
  4. The water in the hole has, we would imagine, zero visibility. How does this help the worker when he submerges himself into it?
  5. Should not the hole be drained of water first?
  6. Is it allowed to send a worker into a flooded trench which apparently has just been excavated?
  7. What were the instructions given to the worker? And what was he suppose to be doing?
  8. Was the worker given a change of clothes after he had completed the task? Or did he continue to work for the rest of the day in his soaked attire? (We understand the workers worked till the night.)

The hole could have caved in, posing danger to the worker, although – from the video – the hole seems to be shallow. What if it was a deeper hole? In sending the worker into a hole with such poor visibility, the worker could have been caught and trapped underneath, or be seriously injured.

A reason why the worker was sent into the hole could be that they had dug a hole and the excavator hit an underground pipe by mistake and broke it and water started gushing out.

If this were the case, what are the procedures which should be followed?

In a report by Channel Newsasia on 2 August about worksite safety, it says:

“MOM emphasised that supervisors play a critical role to reduce work at height risks in our workplaces as they are directly responsible for many workers on the ground and can make the most immediate impact to how work is carried out.”

The report also says, “Over three months, MOM conducted inspections at over 2,000 worksites islandwide. More than 1,800 safety violations were uncovered at these worksites.”

In July, the Straits Times revealed that "fifteen workers have lost their lives in construction site accidents in the first half of this year, six in May alone."

In a bid to reduce worksite injuries and fatalities, the Manpower Minister announced, in July, the creation of a S$12m fund which “companies can soon tap … to help them build capabilities in Workplace Safety and Health (WSH).”

But with such flippant attitudes of site supervisors and managers as shown in the incident in the video, one wonders if such funds will achieve their aim.

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The Online Citizen has sent this article to the Minister and the Ministry of Manpower.

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Below is excerpt from the Workplace Health and Safety Act:

Duties of employers

12.

(1) It shall be 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 his employees at work.

(2) It shall be 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 persons (not being his employees) who may be affected by any undertaking carried on by him in the workplace.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1), the measures necessary to ensure the safety and health of persons at work include —(a) providing and maintaining for those persons a work environment which is safe, without risk to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work;(b) ensuring that adequate safety measures are taken in respect of any machinery, equipment, plant, article or process used by those persons;(c) ensuring that those persons are not exposed to hazards arising out of the arrangement, disposal, manipulation, organisation, processing, storage, transport, working or use of things —(i) in their workplace; or(ii) near their workplace and under the control of the employer;(d) developing and implementing procedures for dealing with emergencies that may arise while those persons are at work; and(e) ensuring that those persons at work have adequate instruction, information, training and supervision as is necessary for them to perform their work.

(4) Every employer shall, where required by the regulations, give to persons (not being his employees) the prescribed information about such aspects of the way in which he conducts his undertaking as might affect their safety or health while those persons are at his workplace.