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Employees whistle-blow on company to MOM over covered up incident

Employees from a local construction company whistle-blow to media and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on a cover up incident at their work-site.

In a letter addressed to members of the mainstream media and MOM on 29 January 2015, the whistle-blowers introduced themselves as employees of a local construction company.

They wrote, "We had enough of the unsafe practices the company was doing so we are writing this to you guys hopefully MOM will follow up this time round under the media spotlight."

In their letter, they wrote about the incident which took placed on 22nd July 2014 at their work-site which one of the cranes toppled during maintenance. They claim that the incident had been covered up by higher management and said whoever expose this incident will be dismissed from the company.

The crane was recovered by the company's mobile crane in its yard without any approval from authorized engineer from MOM and the case was not even reported to MOM.

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The whistle-blowers wrote, "We are writing in hopes of MOM issuing them a heavy fine so that they would know safety is cheaper than accident as they always like to save on safety costs. There are a lot more safety infringement in the yard at 22 soon lee road even our rest area building is toppling and was not rectify. Please help us to fight this errant employer."

Just one day after the mail was sent, MOM dropped down to site to investigate on the site.

The company was told to submit reports, risk assessment & safe work procedure to MOM and to create a yard traffic management plan and also demolish the rest area building as instructed by MOM.

Responding to queries by TOC, the company replied "We are not able to comment on this at the moment as MOM is handling this case."

On 28 January,  MOM launched an enforcement operation codenamed Operation Sunbird to weed out poor Workplace Safety & Health (WSH) practices at construction sites ahead of the festive period. The operation involved inspections at more than 200 worksites island-wide over a three-week period ending in early February 2015.

MOM’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate, Mr Chan Yew Kwong added in the MOM's statement, “The safety and health of their workers should be the top-most priority of employers and occupiers. Errant contractors and employers with egregious WSH contraventions will not only face a thorough investigation and harsh penalties, but corrective actions as well including intensified monitoring, inspections and training requirements.”

The above stated incident was also not reported in the ST report of Operation Sunbird and in any other media.

While the whole operation resulted in 147 fines which amounted to $156,000. MOM might have failed to realized that it is not always the fines that deter the companies from errant practices but more of the company's reputation.

Paying fines of $1000-$10000 is minuscule compared to possible liquidated damages incurred if companies fail to deliver by the delivery date of construction.

If MOM were to expose all the company names that they fine it or found guilty of offenses, companies may take it differently as contractor/supplier will want to minimize those kind of spotlight as they want a good reputation as it will partly affect their bidding process with the large corporations.

TOC has mailed its query to MOM on 29 January and has not heard from the ministry till date of publishing.