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TOC Editorial: Put people before profits, issue stop-work on outdoor manual work

TOC Editorial

As you read this article in front of your computer, there are hundreds of construction workers around the island working on Government and private construction projects in the stifling haze.

Even as our Government rails against the corporate interests in Sumatra who are willing to sacrifice human health for profits, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) still isn’t practicing what they preach by allowing construction companies in Singapore to make their workers slog through the smog.

On 17 June 2013, the Manpower Ministry put out a tough sounding press release, stating that stop-work orders could be issued if the haze situation deteriorated.

Around 10 p.m. on 19 June, TOC sounded the alert as the PSI shot past the “hazardous” range, calling on our Manpower Ministry to issue a stop-work order for construction workers doing the 8 p.m. – 8 a.m. shift.

More than 24 hours has since passed, and the PSI has hit the “hazardous” range several hours in a row. For most part, it has stayed in the range of “very unhealthy”. No stop-work orders have been issued.

No stop-work orders have been issued despite first hand evidence that the risk mitigating guidelines set out in MOM’s press release are being flouted.

In reality, wearing an N95 mask to operate heavy machinery and lift heavy loads is extremely dangerous and not very practical.

Some are calling for a “wait-and-see” approach before taking action that would affect entire industries.

This is dangerously misguided.

How is it conscionable to advocate a “wait-and-see” approach to see if any workers are maimed or injured?

The correct approach should always be to err on the side of safety.

A practical way forward

The Government needs to call a general stop-work order for outdoor manual labourers for a stipulated period of time.

In that window, it should devise, vet and implement a reduced worker capacity plan with private companies.

Those who think the Government has no business telling private companies what to do are completely wrong.

The Workplace Safety and Heath Act makes it a punishable offence for an employer to make his employee work in unsafe conditions. Safe workplaces ARE the State’s business: that’s the entire reason there is a whole act of Parliament devoted to the issue.

Further, the Government is in prime position to lead by example especially for Government construction projects like the Downtown line and in the Town Councils they run.

If we want to send the message to our Indonesian counterparts that people come before profits, we need to walk the talk here in Singapore.