During 2020 we saw a welcome reduction in the number of work-related fatalities and serious injuries compared to the 2019 figures. Whilst this is obviously good news, it’s important to remember that most of the world was in some form of lockdown during 2020 as a result of Covid, which meant the majority of work activities were put on hold.
Now that countries are starting to relax their Covid restrictions and sites are opening up across Asia, these figures have been creeping up, and unless companies address health & safety issues the numbers could easily reach peak levels this year.
What Trends Do The Latest Workplace Accident Numbers Show Us?
According to the International Labour Organisation, a worker dies every 15 seconds from a work-related accident or disease around the world and an estimated 153 workers have a work-related accident.
The numbers across Asia Pacific show the same worrying accident rates.
In Singapore, the number of workplace injuries during 2020 fell by 18% while fatalities were down from 39 in 2019 to 30. It’s likely that this happened because Singapore implemented strict Covid lockdown measures in Q2 & Q3. Once the restrictions started to ease during late 2020, figures started to rise and have continued to rise ever since. The most shocking incident occurred this February when 3 workers died, and 7 others were injured following a combustible dust explosion at an industrial unit in Tuas.
Singapore is not unique in this alarming rise in incidents. These numbers are mirrored across the region as restrictions are eased or lifted. If we want to tackle the problem and reduce these statistics, we need to understand what’s driving these incidents.
Is the pressure to make up lost time leading to people rushing jobs and cutting corners? Is there a shortage of skilled workers? Have people forgotten how to work safely? Or have workers become complacent?
Looking at the cases across Asia Pacific, there are two clear areas of concern; construction which continues to record high numbers of fatalities, and manufacturing where there are significant incidents relating to accidents around machinery.
Why Are Fatalities In Construction So High?
Construction sectors throughout the region continue to account for the highest number of occupational fatalities. Common causes include falls from height, crush injuries, falling objects and electrocution.
For example, in Indonesia, where the construction sector is the second largest in Asia, falls from height remain one of the main causes of fatalities. While in Malaysia, construction was responsible for the highest number of workplace fatalities in 2020, with 53 reported deaths.
Judging by recent events such as the Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang Elevated Expressway (SUKE) construction project where 5 people have been killed in 2 separate incidents, fatality numbers for 2021 are likely to be higher.
So why are the fatality numbers so high in construction? Reasons can include the lack of proper supervision, not following correct safety techniques, failure to wear the right PPE and not using appropriate equipment. The common factor is that sadly it appears safety is not being followed on sites to the same extent as it was pre-Covid.
Competency is crucial for those working in construction. In January, the Ministry of Manpower in Singapore launched an online tool called “CheckSafe” which allows developers, contractors and members of the public to check and compare construction companies’ safety track records before they select a contractor.
Carrying out a full risk assessment so a safe method of work can be established and checking on the competency of workers are simple but effective steps to providing a safe working environment during construction work.
Concern Over Non-Fatal Injuries In Manufacturing
When it comes to non-fatal injuries, the manufacturing sector has seen a concerning rise in the number of incidents across Asia Pacific.
Typical causes of injury include poor traffic management, unprotected machinery, falling objects, badly maintained equipment and falls from height.
In Singapore, the manufacturing sector had the highest number of non-fatal injuries in 2020, whilst machinery incidents accounted for nearly 30% of all major injuries. This has led to MOM actively targeting safety manufacturing and other high-risk industries through Operation Robin. Inspections carried out during November and December identified serious offences including unguarded openings, open sides which present a fall risk and unsafe machinery practices.
The successful initiative was extended and ran until March 2021. In April MOM announced the launch of its new enforcement operation Ops Ibis which focusses on machinery safety, particularly in manufacturing.
Speaking about the latest initiative, Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State at Ministry of Defence of Singapore and Ministry of Manpower said, “Employers and employees need to play their part too, and take greater ownership of safety at their workplaces. I urge companies to take the time before Ops Ibis begins to conduct proper risk assessments and review their work processes. Together, we can all ensure that our workers return home safely and healthily.”
It goes without saying that improving health and safety can have a massive impact and reduce the injury rates in the manufacturing sector.
Machinery can be easily protected with safety guards or safety railings around the machine area to provide a safe environment while safety platforms can provide safe access for maintenance. Regular checks will make sure the machinery is in safe working order and avoid accidents due to malfunction.
Exposed edges and voids on mezzanines, walkways, stairways or around machinery can be protected with guardrails, safety barriers and safety gates to prevent falls from height. Safety barriers also provide a simple and effective way to keep pedestrians and vehicles such as forklifts or AGVs separated through safe, demarcated routes.
Workplace Safety Is Everyone’s Responsibility
As more and more businesses open up and people start returning to the workplace, safety must be a top priority if we want to curb the current increase in occupational fatalities and injuries. Both employers and employees need to take a proactive approach to health and safety and work together to ensure a safe working environment.
Awareness is the first step to prevention, so after spending so long away from the workplace refresher training or toolbox talks are ideal ways to remind employees how to spot hazards and work safely.
Risk assessments must also play a vital part in preventing accidents and ensuring appropriate equipment is used and the right occupational health and safety measures implemented.
At the end of the day, accidents happen. But most accidents are preventable. By carrying out risk assessments, training workers, effective supervision and managing risks properly, we can all work towards a safer working environment for all employees and colleagues across Asia Pacific.
Kee Safety is one of the world’s leading providers of workplace health and safety solutions and advice. We can work with you to identify safety gaps and implement effective health and safety systems within your organisation to protect workers and ensure compliance with all regulations.