Construction workers labour through smog

Choo Zheng Xi/ Co-Founder

I was on the way home after a late dinner yesterday evening. At dinner, I was suprised at the news that the PSI had spiked at 290 at 9 p.m.. In the taxi back, I could smell the acrid air despite the air conditioning.

I took the taxi down Bukit Timah road and passed by two “under construction” downtown line sites, Newton MRT and Stevens MRT.

I was suprised to see construction workers on site given the haze conditions.

When I got home, I turned on the internet and refreshed the browser: the PSI had shot up to 321 as of 10 p.m.. Because of a technical glitch, the result was only updated at nearly 11 p.m..

I remembered the construction workers along the MRT lines. Because the lines aren’t too far from my house, I decided to take a cab down to Newton MRT.

Newton MRT line construction site

I got down to Newton MRT at about 12 midnight. Suprisingly, about 6 – 8 Bangladeshi workers and one mainland Chinese foreman were on site working.

The site contractor was “Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Co Ltd”.

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I asked the group of them if their higher-ups had told them anything about the haze conditions. They shook their heads. One of them told me that “supervisor never say anything”. Some opined: “supervisor probably sleeping”. None of the workers were wearing masks.

I was informed that their shift was going to be from 8 p.m. – 8 a.m: they were going to work through the night.

I asked to see the Safety Officer, as I remember someone telling me that a Safety Officer could issue a stop work order if working conditions were unsafe.

Unfortunately, that happy urban legend turned out to be incorrect. The Safety Officer told me: “I can’t give order, this is an LTA project”.

“Where’s the LTA person then?” I asked.

After some time, the LTA man in charge was produced, asked by the Safety Officer to come down from his on-site container office. The supervisor introduced himself as “Mr Wong” and said he was not authorized to speak.

I decided to try my luck. “Do you know about the haze conditions?” I asked.

“I just got read about it on the internet”, he replied.

“And, are you going to do anything about it”? I asked.

“It depends whether the order comes down, you’ve been in the army before, you know how it is. Directives take time.”

As I turned to walk away, I heard him telling the workers  on site to put masks on.

Stevens MRT line construction site

I decided to walk back home and passed by Stevens MRT line construction site along the way at about half past midnight.

The Stevens site was run by the contractor “Sembawang”. I saw about 6 Bangladeshi workers on site, and 2 of them had masks on.

I made small talk with their foreman, who told me about 20 workers were on site that evening. Like their colleagues at Newton, their shift was 8 p.m. – 8 a.m..

I asked to speak to their Safety Officer, a Singaporean Tamil, who told me that he had informed the contractor’s safety department and project officer.

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Unfortunately, he had been told that nothing could be done for the time being as no directive had been issued by NEA or MOM.

I was told that the LTA officer on site was in his container office.

Do something please

Two days ago MOM released a press release urging employers to minimize work outdoors as PSI reached unhealthy levels.

MOM asked employers to carry out proper risk assessments and mitigation measures to safeguard the health of workers.

There were also a set of guidelines for employers to follow. For instance, employers have to implement “haze communication system between emplyer and employees” to ensure employees are regularly updated on the safety and health effects of the haze.

These guidelines seem to have been completely flouted. In fact, many of the workers I spoke to told me that the superiors who were in a decision making position were most likely sleeping.

While Singaporeans fret about whether to send their children to their air-conditioned schools in the morning and NSmen rightly take a break from outfield activities, why doesn’t anyone seem to care about those in our midst who are working the graveyard shift and operating heavy machinery in these smoggy conditions?

Is the health and safety of a construction worker less important than ours?

In times of national crisis, the true colours of a country show.

I hope Singaporeans can prove that we’re capable of caring enough for our fellow human beings to speak out on their behalf.