Looking out for danger even when off-duty
Workplace safety officer has made 15 reports safety lapses to MOM via mobile app
Like most shutterbugs, Mr Gursharen Singh has a sharp eye, but he is not interested in taking pretty pictures.
His subject of interest may seem mundane, usually focusing on worksites and featuring scaffoldings, ladders and platforms.
But take a closer look at his photographs, and you will notice workers dicing with danger by not observing proper workplace safety practices.
When Mr Singh, 39, spots safety lapses at worksites and public places, he will snap a picture and send it to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)via its crowdsourcing app, SNAP@MOM.
The smartphone app, which was launched in 2012, encourages the public to report workplace safety and health (WSH) lapses that they come across in Singapore. (See report, below.)
Mr Singh's contribution of at least 15 reports on various WSH lapses in the four years since the app's launch makes him one of MOM's top danger-spotters.
His interest in the field stems from his job as a WSH officer at a manufacturing and services provider in the oil and gas industry, where he watches over the safety and health conditions of more than 200 workers.
"It's my job to ensure that everyone comes to work and returns home safety," he told The New Paper.
"So far, under MOM guidelines, we've managed to keep the workplace reportable-incident free for more than two years."
His dedication to his work means that even when he is off-duty, he still keeps a keen lookout for safety violations when he is out in public.
He said: "I usually chance upon (these cases) while I'm out with my family or visiting friends. It could be while workers are fixing lights, laying cables or even maintaining traffic lights."
His wife, Ms Imelda Lock, 37, and their three young children have become accustomed to delays during their outings because sometimes, Mr Singh will just wander off.
"Sometimes when we're walking on the street, I turn around and find him gone. When I retrace my steps, I often find him talking to a worker he has met along the way," said Ms Lock, a housewife.
"I've told him not to be so kaypoh (Hokkien for busybody) and that it's none of his business. But he will say, 'I'm a safety officer, it is my business'.
"Sometimes I roll my eyes, but I've learnt to accept it. After all, it's for the safety of others."
Mr Singh usually tries to talk to the workers on the spot and reach out to their supervisors over the phone. If they are unwilling to cooperate, he will report the issue to MOM via the app.
Earlier this month, he came across a worker sweeping a slippery second-storey ledge without a safety harness. The ladder he used to climb to the ledge was also not properly secured. (See report, below.)
When he asked the worker if he was aware that what he was doing was dangerous, the worker said he had no choice because his supervisor insisted that he get on with the task.
Mr Singh said he has also encountered irate supervisors who raised their voices at him because they thought he was interfering with their work.
But he does not mind because he has a clear objective, which is to prevent people from getting hurt.
"If I don't give feedback, (the act) might happen again, and you never know if a life will be lost. Revenue can be generated every year, but a life once lost can never be replaced," he said.
An MOM spokesman said Mr Singh's feedback has resulted in enforcement action being taken against companies with WSH lapses.
"(His) concern for WSH is commendable, and he has certainly contributed towards making Singapore a safer workplace," the spokesman added.
"We would also like to encourage the public to play their part to report any WSH lapses they observe to MOM so that appropriate action can be taken."
VALUE OF LIFE
Before becoming a WSH officer, Mr Singh was a machinist in the aviation industry for five years.
His interest in WSH issues started in 2007 when a friend asked for his help to pose as a construction worker for an advertisement.
As soon as he donned the blue safety hat, yellow shirt, boots and held a walkie-talkie in his hands, the importance of workers' safety was impressed upon him.
"It just struck me - the value of life. If you don't take care of your workers, nobody else will," he said.
"Some people might wait until someone gets injured before instilling the importance of workplace safety, but I think that's too painful a lesson."
He became a WSH officer a few years later after going through the necessary courses and qualifications.
Mr Singh said he looks out for WSH lapses not because he wants to "catch people", but rather to educate and guide them.
To better communicate with workers in his company and those he meets on the streets, Mr Singh said he has picked up languages such as Mandarin and Malay.
He added: "I never want to be in the position where I ignore a safety lapse and read about it in the newspapers later. I don't want to ever have the thought, 'I should have done something to help him'."
"If I don't give feedback, (the act) might happen again, and you never know if a life will be lost. Revenue can be generated every year, but a life once lost can never be replaced."
- Mr Gursharen Singh
MP Patrick Tay comments
The one thing that workplace deaths this year had in common is that they were preventable, said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Taythis month.
Mr Tay, an MP for West Coast GRC, told The Straits Times that top-down enforcement can only go so far.
"Everyone along the value chain has to play his part. Leaders of organisations need to take ownership," he said.
"Supervisors need to lead by example. And workers on the ground cannot be complacent, they must be proactive."
PUBLIC CAN HELP
One way the public can help is by using the Ministry of Manpower mobile app SNAP@MOM, through which anyone can anonymously report safety lapses. (See report below)
The Workplace Safety and Health Institute released a study on the beleaguered construction sector last month.
It found that of the 33 construction deaths between June last year and this May, nine in 10 were due to unsafe behaviour by workers, such as not wearing protective gear.
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say warned last month that the fatality rate is likely to hit 2.2 per 100,000 workers this year.
Last year's fatality rate was 1.9 per 100,000 workers.
How SNAP@MOM works
SNAP@MOM, a mobile app launched in 2012 by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), lets workers and the public report unsafe practices at worksites.
Those who have the app can use their smartphones to send photos and instant feedback about unsafe work practices to those who oversee the workplaces and MOM.
They can also send in photographs of good work practices.
Since 2012, MOM has received 5,229 reports via the app.
The crowdsourcing app aims to encourage and drive industry and community ownership in managing workplace safety and health (WSH).
An MOM spokesman said that ministry inspectors follow up on every piece of feedback to determine the kind of WSH breaches committed at the sites.
He added: "Contributors' confidentiality is assured. Workers need not fear reprisal from employers.
"MOM welcomes contributions through SNAP@MOM as these reports not only help weed out risky work practices, but also assist MOM in helping companies improve their WSH standards."
You can get the free app by searching for "SNAP@MOM" on the iTunes App Store or Google Play.
Past cases of unsafe work
- A worker was seen sweeping a second-storey ledge without any protection against the risk of falling. The ladder was also not secured.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will be taking enforcement action against the people in charge of the worksite.
- Workers were working at height without adequate fall protection. They were also seen working on unsafe work platforms.
The MOM issued a stop-work order for work-at-height and scaffolding activities at the premises. The contractor had to pay fines amounting to $7,500
- A worker was seen working on an unsafe scaffolding without fall protection measures.
The people controlling the premises were told to rectify the situation to conform to safety regulations.
- Workers were working at height without any fall protection. Some of them were seen standing on the top rung of a ladder to carry out works.
The people in charge were told to rectify the situation to conform to safety regulations.
Stats of workplace accidents
workplace deaths so far in 2016
deaths in construction sector
deaths in marine sector
deaths in manufacturing sector
deaths in transport and storage sector
deaths in other workplaces
Source: Workplace Safety and Health Report, Ministry of Manpower