Back to top

Oral Answer to Questions on Safety of Workers Transported on Lorries

19 Jul 2010 In Parliament

Questions on safety of workers transported on lorries

Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Transport in light of the deaths of 3 foreign workers arising from an expressway accident on 22 June 2010 (a) what measures will be implemented to ensure the safety of foreign workers being transported to and from work on their employers' vehicles; (b) how will these measures help minimise injury and how quickly will they be implemented; and (c) whether the Ministry will consider legislating that employers must transport their workers in mini buses or buses with compulsory seat-belting.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang: To ask the Minister for Transport (a) if the recently introduced measures to enhance the safety of workers transported on lorries should be effected sooner instead of the phased approach; (b) whether the deadline for compulsory installation of higher side-rails on existing lorries should be brought forward rather than wait till 2012; (c) whether the current number of buses/minibuses is sufficient to meet the transportation needs of the industry; and (d) whether the Ministry will consider supporting businesses who wish to convert to bus transportation in the near future by providing incentives/subsidies.

Mdm Halimah Yacob: To ask the Minister for Transport (a) whether the Ministry will consider bringing forward the deadline for introducing new safety measures for the transport of workers on lorries that were supposed to be introduced by 2012; (b) what enforcement action will be taken against errant employers who fail to comply with safety rules when transporting workers; and (c) what are the immediate steps taken to provide better protection to workers pending the introduction of new safety measures.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak: To ask the Minister for Transport (a) if the Ministry will consider bringing forward the proposed measures to have higher protective side railings and canopies for lorries which will only take effect in 2012; and (b) whether there are plans for interim measures such as public education for transport operators who ferry workers.

Dr Lam Pin Min: To ask the Minister for Transport (a) what are the underlying reasons for the spate of accidents involving foreign workers transported in lorries; and (b) whether the speed limit for vehicles used in transporting workers can be further reduced to make travelling on these vehicles safer.

Reply by Minister for Transport, Mr Raymond Lim

        Mr Speaker Sir, this is an issue that the Government takes seriously. Last year, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Teo Ser Luck explained in this House that the safety measures in place and enforcement efforts have generally been effective in keeping the fatality and injury rates of passengers carried at the back of lorries low. Nonetheless, a Workgroup led by LTA and MOM recommended a series of measures to further enhance the safety of workers transported on lorries.

2.     Most of the measures were implemented on 1 September 2009 and 1 January 2010. Enforcement records showed there has generally been a high level of compliance to these safety rules. There have been on average a 50% fall in the number of violations of these rules in the first four months of this year, compared to the last 4 months of last year. The accident statistics during the 10-month period before and after the new measures were implemented show that the injury cases have reduced by about 17%. However, for fatality cases, it is too early to draw conclusions given the very small numbers involved, with three cases for the 10 months before 1 September 2009, and three cases for the 10 months after, all of which happened on the unfortunate 22 June accident.

3.     There are two remaining measures from the Workgroup recommendations that we had planned to implement on 1 September 2012. They are: First, all lorries used to ferry workers must be fitted with canopies and higher side railings. This has been a requirement for all newly-registered lorries since 1 January 2010, and was to be extended to existing lorries on 1 September 2012. Second, the minimum deck space requirement per seated worker will be doubled from 4 to 8 square feet. A longer lead time was given to these two measures to allow businesses to phase in their operational changes and make decisions on their existing assets.

4.     Since the fatal lorry accident on 22 June, LTA has reviewed the situation and identified 4 areas through which to further enhance the safety of workers on lorries. They are:

        (i) Vehicle-safety related measures

        (ii) Driver-related measures

        (iii) Enforcement and penalties; and

        (iv) Public education

5.     On vehicle-safety related measures, Mr Christopher de Souza, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Mdm Halimah Yacob and Dr Lim Wee Kiat have asked whether these remaining two measures should be brought forward. We have decided that it would be prudent to do so, and it will be done as follows:

        (i) All light lorries used to transport workers will have to be fitted with canopies and higher side railings within the next 6 months, that is, by 1 February 2011. Heavy lorries used to transport workers will need to comply by 1 August 2011.

        (ii) The doubling of the minimum deck space requirement per seated worker to 8 square feet will be implemented for both light and heavy lorries by 1 August 2011.

6.     The requirement for canopies and higher side railings is being phased in as there are capacity constraints in our local workshops. We have looked at the accident statistics which show that 75% of lorry accidents resulting in fatalities to workers involve light lorries. Also, light lorries, as compared to heavier lorries, are generally less able to withstand the forces of collisions in an accident. As such, we have put priority for light lorries to be retrofitted first.

7.     Besides the vehicle safety-related measures which help minimize the extent of injuries when accidents do occur, the drivers also play a crucial role in transporting the workers safely. The Traffic Police (TP) already has a strict enforcement regime and penalty framework against errant drivers who speed, drive recklessly or dangerously. In response to Dr Lam Pin Min's suggestion on reducing the speed limit of lorries which transport workers, it is not recommended as it will increase the speed differential between lorries and other vehicles on expressways and this will itself give rise to other safety issues. Our focus should be on ensuring that drivers keep to the existing speed limits and drive safely. Hence, besides enforcement which I will touch on shortly, LTA and the TP will explore the use of technologies and devices to better control speeding by lorries used for carrying workers. Also, to ensure that foreign drivers who ferry workers or goods in the course of their work are fully competent and familiar with driving on our roads, the Ministries of Home Affairs and Manpower will develop and implement more stringent conditions for licensing these drivers. The details on these measures will be announced when they are ready.

8.     LTA and TP have also stepped up their enforcement efforts and will continue to take strict enforcement action against errant drivers. Resources will be increased to sustain the stepped-up level of enforcement. Penalties for speeding and non-compliance with vehicle safety rules will be enhanced with higher fines as well as demerit points for greater deterrence. In addition, appropriate legal actions will be taken against both the employers and the drivers depending on the nature of the offence. The details will be announced in due course.

9.     LTA, TP and MOM together with industry stakeholders will continue public education efforts on road safety, as well as develop targeted programmes such as safety talks, videos and posters for various stakeholder groups to raise awareness of the safety regulations for lorries carrying workers.

10.   Mr de Souza has asked whether the Ministry will consider legislating that employers must transport their workers in buses. The measures that are in place, and to be effected in the next year, would help to achieve the desired objective of mitigating the risks of workers who need to travel on lorries in the course of their work. We should allow the measures to improve workers safety on lorries to take effect and study their effectiveness before concluding that they are insufficient and going for a ban.

11.   The efforts put in by all the relevant agencies underscore the Governments concern about the safety of workers transported on lorries. Employers and drivers must also play their part as safety is also their responsibility as well.