“In July to October alone, there were eight such deaths, five of which happened at construction sites” (Workplace Fatalities Rise This Year As More Workers Fall From Height, Francis Law).
In response to the higher number of workplace fatalities – with 16 such deaths at workplaces this year, as of October, “up from 10 cases in the whole of last year [and] the highest since 2012” (TODAY, Nov. 27) – the causes of these incidents must be ascertained: whether there were structural or systemic weaknesses, personal carelessness as a result of distractions, or a combination of both. At the moment, details are scant. Because if structural or systemic factors are to blame, employers should shoulder greater responsibility, and in fact more punitive measures can be introduced to increase vigilance and stem the trend. Are incidents more likely to happen within a particular industry, or even to a company?
And it is not deaths per se. According to the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council, there have been 87 cases of major injuries from workplace falls compared with 88 in 2014, and also a higher overall number of work-related fatalities and injuries than last year. In this vein, the concession that endeavours by the WSH Council – such as clinics by the Ministry of Manpower and even enforcement actions – have been less than adequate is disconcerting.
The obvious next step, after determining the causes of these falls and deaths despite supposed improvements in safety in the first half of the year, is to assess the effectiveness of present undertakings. Awareness projects such as the Falls Prevention Campaign may sound good on paper, but lessons are not necessarily learnt. Do companies gain from the aforementioned clinics, are changes implemented thereafter, and have the inspections or spot checks yielded substantive insights for the authorities? More importantly, what do workers think? Surveys or focus group discussions can be arranged with those who toil at these workplaces, to aggregate their perceptions on how safe they feel, and if they identify any red flags. Such information is more useful than mere rhetoric about “complacency” and “vigilance”.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.