46 workers lost hands, fingers in accidents last year, mainly due to unsafe machinery use

SINGAPORE – Forty-six workers lost their hands or fingers in amputation accidents last year, mainly due to the unsafe use of machinery.

Such injuries, which often have a lasting impact on the workers’ lives and livelihoods, are preventable, stressed Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Thursday (March 25) when he launched this year’s Safe Hands Campaign.

“We need to persevere in our efforts to ensure such incidents do not recur,” he said, as he encouraged companies to embrace a culture of reporting near misses.

The campaign, an initiative by the Workplace Safety and Health Council, focuses on raising awareness on machinery safety and practices to avoid hand and finger injuries.

Mr Zaqy said that there were 1,756 injuries due to machinery incidents last year, down from 2,262 in 2019.

But he pointed out that the drop could be due to the circuit breaker period and the suspension of business activities then.

“Overall, for the manufacturing sector, machinery incidents still account for nearly one-third of all injuries in the sector, so we must continue to press on,” he added.

Last month, 11 workers died in nine separate workplace accidents. Some of the fatalities involved the use of machinery such as forklifts.

“These tragic accidents provide a stark reminder that if not used properly, machines can lead to needless loss of lives, not just the loss of hands or fingers,” said Mr Zaqy, urging firms to conduct a safety time-out to review their practices and assess possible risks.

While Singapore has resumed almost all its manufacturing activities since the end of the circuit breaker on June 1 last year, workplace safety and health cannot be taken for granted as firms catch up on order delays or adjust their operations, he said.

“Every accident and every life lost is one too many.”

The campaign is held in collaboration with the Singapore Manufacturing Federation. Last year, some 560 firms pledged their commitment towards enforcing greater safety.

Mr Zaqy called on more employers to take proactive steps to ensure their workers’ safety.

These include installing machine guards, which prevent operators from having their hands and fingers caught between moving parts, or light curtains, which are sensors that can detect if an operator’s fingers get too close to a machine’s moving parts.

While such measures are a necessary first step, a company’s management has to ensure the guards are maintained and are not intentionally removed for the sake of convenience.

“Companies cannot delegate this responsibility to the workers,” he noted. They should also be receptive to feedback and act immediately when lapses are flagged.

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In his opening address, Mr Zaqy also touched on workplace health issues, from chronic problems to infectious diseases such as Covid-19.

In recent years, mental health at the workplace has become a growing concern.

Firms can use a free online assessment tool called iWorkHealth to identify sources of work stress, and refer to the tripartite advisory on mental well-being for resources to support workers’ mental health.

Mr Zaqy said a stressful work environment may affect productivity and lead to potential lapses, as distracted workers may lack focus and have slower hand-eye coordination.

Similarly, workers with poorly managed chronic diseases may find difficulty getting rest, he added.

“Limited energy levels coupled with constant pain make even the simplest tasks draining and tiresome. A worker could even lose consciousness while at work, and this has dire consequences when they are operating machinery.”

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