Wednesday, June 23, 2010

We need a safer way to transport foreign workers? Wait for another 2 years!

In August 2009, we heard the news of a foreign worker who fell off a lorry. It was quite a news at that time, partly because he was compensated $50k, but mostly because the people finally felt that enough was enough. We were dropping too many foreign workers off the road. Literally.

Foreign worker who fell off lorry gets $50k

A FOREIGN worker, who fell off the back of a lorry two years ago when it went over a road hump, will receive $50,000 in a settlement with his former employer.

Mr Mohd Showket Ali Abul Hossain Moral, 38, filed a claim against the company and the lorry driver in the civil courts after the fall. He needed two weeks' stay in hospital and more than a month of medical leave.

Yesterday, in a hearing in chambers, the parties agreed to settle.

The Bangladesh national, who flew here for the case, is expected to return to his country this weekend. He now oversees crop workers on a piece of farmland.

Mr Showket was a construction worker for Nature Landscapes, according to court documents detailing how the incident happened.

On July 27, 2007, he and a co-worker loaded trash bags of dead leaves onto the cargo deck of a lorry at a condominium in Bukit Timah.

The next afternoon, they were tasked to go with the driver to Changi to dump the leaves. While his co-worker sat with the driver in the cabin, Mr Showket clambered up the rear of the lorry and sat on the trash bags.

Midway through the journey, it began to pour, drenching Mr Showket, but worse was to follow. Near their destination, along Simei Rise, the lorry went over a hump, and Mr Showket fell off the cargo deck onto the road.

He lay there unconscious. His colleagues had no idea he had fallen off.

It was only when they got down from the lorry moments later, at the gate to their destination, that they saw him lying on the road.

Mr Showket was taken to Changi General Hospital in an ambulance. He had head, neck and back injuries, according to his statement of claim.

It then took the ministry nearly 18 months of consultation and study to discover the measures to enhance the safety of workers being transported in the open back carriages of lorries. So many months were needed for meetings after meetings of brainstorming, probably because some of the elites have no idea how lorries look like. After all, the only open-top vehicles they are familiar with are the Mercedes-Benz Roadsters and BMW Convertibles.

Anyway, finally the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Mr Teo Ser Luck, announced happily in the Parliament that revolutionary measures have been created to ensure safer rides for those who sit in the back of lorries.

And the two measures that the group took 18 months to come up with?

A worker cannot be seated any higher than 1.1m from the cargo deck. Those who breach this rule will be fined $200. A lorry cannot ferry more workers than allowed by the space on the cargo deck. Those who breach this rule will be fined $500 for the first offence.

Yes, it took them 18 months to figure out who to fine and how much.

Of course, as usual, the minister will tell you a long-term plan is in place as well. And it will be another three years for the full slate of measures — which include installing canopies and higher side railings on the back of lorries — to roll out, implemented in phases, slowly and steadily.

Fortunately, someone was not sleeping in the Parliament and asked a sensible question. Jurong MP Mdm Halimah Yacob asked, why three years.

And unfortunately the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Teo Ser Luck had a callous yet economically sensitive reason for why a three-year period is necessary.

Source: Parliament Debates Official Report

Mdm Halimah Yacob (Jurong): Sir, I thank the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the reply. I have a number of supplementary questions to ask.

My first question is that the Senior Parliamentary Secretary said that the safety and enforcement measures currently in force are effective. I would like to ask the Senior Parliamentary Secretary whether he is aware of an accident that occurred on 2nd August this year reported in the Straits Times which talks about a lorry carrying foreign workers which crashed and 16 people were hurt. That was barely two weeks ago.

Second, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary also referred to the existence of laws to prosecute those who jeopardise the life and safety of workers by carrying them on the back of lorries. How many convictions of such employers have there been in order to ensure the safety of these workers?

Third, I would like to ask the Senior Parliamentary Secretary why does it take three years to introduce these measures? Can it not be a much shorter period? Because we are talking about the lives and limbs of people who come and work in our country. I do not see many Singaporeans being carried in this way; in fact, hardly any. If Singaporeans are carried in this way, they would probably not want to work for the company. So, why do we need three years? What are the interim measures the Ministry has in mind to prevent the occurrence of the accident which happened only two weeks ago?

Mr Teo Ser Luck: Sir, I would like to assure the Member that safety is paramount. That is our main consideration, and that of the Workgroup. And that is the objective of the measures that they are recommending.

It is a very complex issue. We have to address not only safety concerns but also the concerns of the business sector and other stakeholders, and find a point of balance, given how these measures might potentially impact the different stakeholders.

Nevertheless, they have come up with both immediate measures and measures for the medium term, after three years, eg, the canopies, the side railings, as well as not to expose the workers above the height that will increase the risk of them falling off. We are enhancing the enforcement measures as well. So, with all these measures coming in, we hope that we can continue to enhance the safety of the workers, and we will continue to monitor the situation.

For some probably political reasons, Mr Teo's reasoning was not questioned further and so it was accepted that we could wait till 2012.

Fast-forward to 2010 now, less than one year later, we see another two accidents involving throwing workers off their lorries.

Three dead as lorry overturns on PIE

SINGAPORE - Three men were killed in a traffic accident after the lorry they were in overturned on the Pan-Island Expressway at the Thomson Road exit, towards Changi this morning.

Two men died on the spot while the third died in hospital.

Fourteen others who were in the same vehicle were also sent to the hospital.

Of the 14, eight have been discharged while the remaining six were warded for minor trauma injuries.

All 17 men are believed to be China nationals from Crec Construction. A representative from the company said most of the men are from Jiangsu province.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force said they rushed five ambulances, a fire engine and a Red Rhino to the scene soon after receiving a call at around 7.39am.

The accident caused a massive rush-hour traffic jam on the PIE.

Police are investigating the cause of the accident. It is not known if the lorry was carrying more workers than what is allowed.

Truck with 35 hits tree

A 24-footer truck carrying 35 workers crashed into a tree along Jurong Port Road on Wednesday morning, a day after three Chinese nationals were killed when the lorry they were riding in skidded and overturned just off the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE).

Fourteen others were injured in Tuesday's horrific accident.

In the latest Jurong Port accident, there were no serious casualties, according to the company's boss Simon Subra.

Two of the 35 workers from Fining Engineers and Contractors were sent to the National University Hospital for head injuries and treated as outpatients. Another four escaped with scrapes and bruises and have since been discharged.

So what's next? About time for someone to come out and tell these foreign workers "Just bear with another 2 more years of accidents, and you will be safe!"!

1 comment:

  1. I feel sad that the poor young china driver would be jailed / fined. Actually, Teo Ser Luck should be the one for allowing this to happen.