KANBrief 2/13

Occupational health and safety and standardization in Singapore

Singapore is only slightly bigger than Andorra, but has a population comparable to that of Denmark. The country is characterized by a highly dynamic economy: 46.2 weekly hours of work are the norm, reaching up to 53 hours in the construction sector. In 2012, the unemployment rate was 2.0%. Approximately 70% of the labour force of 3.36 million work in the service sector, 16% in the manufacturing industry and 13% in the construction sector (Ministry of Manpower. Labour Market, 2012, March 2013).

In 2005, the Singapore government embarked on a major reform of its workplace safety and health (WSH) framework to improve WSH standards and outcomes. One of the main objectives was a reduction in fatal workplace accidents from 4.9 per 100,000 workers in 2004 to a target of less than 1.8 by 2018 (2012: 2.1). A total of 407 workplace injuries per 100,000 employed persons were reported in 2012. The majority of these were caused by slips, trips and falls. Among the occupational diseases, noiseinduced deafness accounted for 88% of all cases. Accident rates are particularly high in the construction, manufacturing and marine sectors (Workplace Safety and Health Institute, Workplace Safety and Health Report 2012, March 2013 ).

Occupational health and safety and accident insurance

The Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) adopted in 2006 is the core legal instrument concerning occupational safety and health in Singapore. The Act covers all workplaces and imposes obligations on all stakeholders to reduce risks at source (risk assessment, definition of responsibilities within the company, etc.). In addition, it stands for a paradigm shift in legislation: away from mere compliance with prescriptive safety obligations, towards active involvement of industry in the development of standards for safety at the workplace. Stakeholders are required to take “reasonably practicable” measures to ensure the safety and health of persons who may be affected by the work, including members of the public.

The WSHA contains an explicit requirement for certain machines and work equipment to be safe (e.g. scaffolds, forklifts, power presses, pressure equipment). Ensuring this is a duty for manufacturers, distributors and operators alike. Subordinate to the WSHA, 26 Regulations govern particular subjects such as construction, noise, asbestos, first aid and incident reporting.

Employees in Singapore are protected by a statutory work injury compensation system financed by the employers (Work Injury Compensation Act). It compensates for permanent disability, pays medical expenses of up to $30.000 (approximately 18,500), and provides full pay for up to 14 days of medical leave, or up to 60 days in the event of hospitalisation. Beyond these periods, employees receive 2/3 pay for up to one year.

Standardization and accreditation

Standardization in Singapore is managed by SPRING (Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board), an agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry whose mission also includes enterprise development. Eleven committees managed by SPRING (covering sectors such as IT, chemistry, construction and energy) coordinate the development of standards in the technical committees and working groups. At the international level, SPRING is the Singapore representative on the committees of ISO and IEC.

SPRING encourages industry to use international standards where possible. National standards (Singapore Standards) are developed when no international standard exists or when no suitable standard exists that could meet the needs of local industry. Some 620 Singapore Standards are currently in force, dealing with both product requirements and workplace health and safety. They are developed in a consensus-based process by stakeholders and are subject to a twomonth public enquiry. Application is largely voluntary, except for the standards mandated by the government, e.g. in the areas of fire protection and occupational safety and health. SPRING also manages the Singapore Accreditation Council (SAC), which accredits the Conformity Assessment Bodies (437 accreditations as of 2012).

Occupational health and safety standards

The Workplace Safety and Health Council WSHC (17 representatives from industry, the government, unions, and from the insurance, legal and academic fields) was established in April 2008 and comprises 17 representatives from industry, the government, unions, and from the insurance, legal and academic fields. Its purpose is to strengthen industry ownership of WSH outcomes. This is achieved through working with industry to develop guidelines and codes of practice, and by adoption of relevant standards from SPRING in the form of Approved Codes of Practice (ACOP).

Michael Robert

Sebastian Tan Shi Hao