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Will Harsher Penalties Improve Workplace Safety?

There were 28 workplace fatalities between January and April this year, six more than the same period last year” (Tougher Penalties For Firms That Flout Safety, Health, Louisa Tang).

Taken from http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hub/431758/file-2246766027-jpg/5_Workplace_Safety_Tips_for_New_Employees.jpg?t=1461010358255.

“Despite all the stepped-up enforcements and inspections, the number of workplace fatalities is still increasing”, Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said.

The spike in workplace fatalities this year – 28 between January and April, which is “six more than the same period last year”, with 12 cases in the construction sector and five in the marine sector (TODAY, May 13) – marks the continuation of an unhealthy trend since the second-half of last year. Despite efforts by the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council, for instance, there were 16 cases of workers falling from height to their deaths in the first 10 months of 2015, compared to the 10 cases in the whole of 2014. Together with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the WSH Council endeavoured to do more through awareness campaigns and clinics, yet based on the number of cases little progress may have been made.

In this vein the MOM and the WSH Council will point to its four-pronged approach of enforcement, capability building, setting standards, and engagement, and the tougher penalties now in place for firms which flout safety and health rules is consistent with that. “Despite all the stepped-up enforcements and inspections, the number of workplace fatalities is still increasing”, Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said. “That says something about the attitude of the companies and the people working at the worksites”.

But what if the problems were more fundamental or structural, framed perhaps in the form of incentives? Present policy recommendations assume that harsher punitive measures would compel companies to improve their safety systems, when in fact companies may think they can get away with transgressions, or if lax standards are more prevalent in particular industries. In this vein, beyond generic or even anecdotal plans, evidence-based approaches may be more useful. Are workplace accidents or fatalities more prevalent in certain industries, on a per-worker or per-company basis? How safe do workers feel about their workplaces, and do these perspectives match up with accounts provided by companies or inspections by the MOM? And what are the safety targets established by the MOM and the WSH Council, and what are the expectations for the new stiffer measures?

A version of this article was published in TODAY.

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A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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