In brief

  • In April 2011 the Singapore Parliament passed the Workplace Safety and Health Bill, amending the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSH Act), extending certain duties under the Act to all workplaces rather than just specific types of workplaces and factories, with effect from 1 September 2011.
  • These amendments to the WSH Act represent the final stage of the implementation of a revised legislative framework that began in 2006, designed to apply and update requirements to deal with work hazards and improve safety protection for workers in Singapore. 
  • Employers whose workplaces have not previously been covered by the WSH Act will need to carefully consider the duties that are now imposed on them under the Act and ensure that they take necessary steps to meet those duties.  

Background

In April 2011 the Singapore Parliament passed the Workplace Safety and Health Bill, amending the Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSH Act), extending certain duties under the Act to all workplaces rather than just specific types of workplaces and factories.

These amendments to the WSH Act represent the final stage of  the implementation of a revised legislative framework that began in 2006 with the introduction of the WSH Act, designed to apply and update requirements to deal with work hazards and improve safety protection for workers in Singapore. The WSH Act, which replaced the old Factories Act, was also amended in 2008, to extend the application of the Act to a broader range of sectors. The latest amendments extend the protection of the Act to the remaining 60 per cent of the workforce in Singapore. The phased introduction of the new legislation was intended to provide employers with an appropriate adjustment period.

The new framework is based upon three principles:

  • reducing risks in the workplace
  • giving industry ownership of the health and safety in the workplace, and 
  • preventing accidents caused through poor safety management.

The new framework imposes general duties of care (carrying the weight of criminal law) on employers and other stakeholders, with respect to employees and others whose safety and health may be affected by the acts and omissions of the duty-holders. The intention is that the primary duty-holders, such as employers, will meet these duties of care by implementing robust safety management systems, based on principles of risk assessment and control.

The amendments

The key amendments are summarised below:

  • All workplaces will be covered under the WSH Act from 1 September 2011, including offices and non-industrial workplaces where only non-manual work is performed.
  • Certain provisions and duties continue to apply only to workplaces defined under the WSH Act as ‘factories’. However, given the wider application of the WSH Act to all workplaces, the definition of a ‘factory’ has been amended to refer only to higher risk workplaces.
  • New duties are imposed on principals in relation to contractors (i.e. workers engaged by the principal outside of an employer-employee relationship to supply labour or do any work for gain or reward). Principals will be under a duty to take, so far as is reasonably practicable, any measures necessary to ensure that contractors engaged by them:
  • have the necessary expertise to carry out the work for which that contractor is engaged, with the principal ensuring that the contractor and the contractor’s employees have the necessary training and licences etc, and
  • have taken adequate safety and health measures in respect of any machinery, equipment, plant, article or process used, or to be used, by the contractor or any employee employed by the contractor, with requirements for the principal to conduct risk assessments and inform others of the nature of risks and relevant safe work procedures.

These duties will apply regardless of whether or not the principal actually directs the work of a contractor. In addition, in complying with these duties, the WSH Act states that it is not sufficient to merely include in the relevant contract a term that states that the contractor will comply with the above requirements.

A breach of these duties is subject to a fine of up to SG$200,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years for individuals or a fine of up to SG$500,000 for companies.

  • The WSH Act now specifies that it is an offence for any person at work to, without reasonable cause, engage in a negligent act which endangers the safety or health of themselves or others, with the penalty being a fine of up to SG$30,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years. This amendment is designed to provide for all types of individuals in the workplace to be prosecuted for negligence under the WSH Act, including employees. Previously, such negligent acts by employees would have been prosecuted under the Penal Code.
  • The range of occupational diseases covered by the WSH Act has been extended, expanding the Ministry of Manpower’s power to investigate occupational diseases due to exposure to chemical or biological hazards in the workplace.

Implications for employers and others

Not all provisions of the WSH Act will apply to all workplaces. For example, the requirements to have in place workplace safety and health officers, coordinators, committees and auditors, will only apply to workplaces as specifically defined in the relevant Regulations.

However, businesses that operate in workplaces not previously covered by the Act should carefully consider their duties under the Act. In particular:

  • Occupiers of any workplace are under a duty to take, so far as is reasonably practicable, such measures to ensure that the workplace is safe and without risks to the health to every person within those premises, whether or not the person is at work or is an employee of the occupier.
  • Employers are under a duty to take, so far as is reasonably practicable, such measures as are necessary to ensure the safety and health of their employees at work and other persons who may be affected by any undertaking carried on by the employer in the workplace.
  • Principals are under a duty to take, so far as is reasonably practicable, such measures as are necessary to ensure the workplace safety and health of contractors, direct and indirect subcontractors and employees employed by such contractors or subcontractors.

Businesses should be aware that they will have obligations under the WSH Act towards any contractors or subcontractors that they engage, as well as the employees of those contractors or subcontractors and that duties under the Act do not just apply with respect to individuals with whom they are in a direct employer – employee relationship.