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Workplace death rate hit 13-year low in 2017 but occupational diseases up 9%

[SINGAPORE] With the workplace death rate last year falling to its lowest since 2004, the spotlight has shifted to the rising incidence of workplace illness.

The number of occupational diseases rose 9 per cent in 2017, to 799 cases, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Tuesday.

Increases were seen in each of the top three workplace disease types - musculoskeletal disorders, noise-induced deafness and skin diseases - which together made up over 90 per cent of all cases.

The largest jump was in occupational skin diseases, which rose by two thirds, to 78 cases last year.

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The MOM said it plans to "enhance its targeted programmes to prevent the occurrences of these occupational diseases. These include efforts on reducing excessive noise at source, improving ergonomics and strengthening the management of hazardous chemicals at workplaces."

In all, the MOM carried out 16,000 inspections last year and issued 71 stop-work orders, more than 1,200 fines and 9,000 notices of non-compliance.

"We will sustain the pace of enforcement operations and engagement in 2018," it added.

Noting the rise in the number of cases of workplace disease, Workplace Safety and Health Institute executive director Gan Siok Lin said: "There is a need to manage workplace health the same way we manage workplace safety. Health affects safety and vice versa, so companies should take an integrated approach to enhance both their safety and health management capabilities."

Meanwhile the number of work-related deaths fell from 66 to 42 last year. This brings the fatality rate to 1.2 per 100,000 employees - the lowest since 2004, the year comparable figures starting being reported.

This meets the national target, set in 2008, to bring the workplace fatality rate down to 1.8 per 100,000 by 2018.

Non-fatal injuries also fell. Major injuries declined 3 per cent to 574 cases. Minor injuries decreased by 4 per cent to 11,882 cases.

Most sectors saw a fall in workplace deaths. In construction, the sector with the highest number of deaths, the number halved last year to 12.

The top three causes of workplace deaths all experienced declines: vehicular-related incidents, falls, and machinery-related incidents. For vehicular incidents, the number one cause, deaths fell from 22 to 14.

Workplace Safety and Health Council general manager Patrick Han said his organisation will continue working to instil a mindset of prevention through Vision Zero - "that all ill health and accidents are preventable".

THE STRAITS TIMES

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