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todayonline - 18 days ago

Fatal accident sparks fresh calls to ban ferrying of construction workers on lorries, install seat belts

A migrant worker died and 16 others were injured in an accident involving a lorry and a tipper truck on Tuesday morning People are calling for the authorities to ban the practice of transporting workers in the back of lorries Others urge for more safety features, such as seat belts Some in the construction industry said these suggestions will need to be reviewed holistically SINGAPORE — For construction worker Md Sharif Uddin, 42, his daily work commute in the back of a lorry is always a terrifying experience. “I am always emotionally uncomfortable (in the lorry). I am terrified. Because there have already been many accidents,” the Bangladeshi safety coordinator at a construction company told TODAY on Wednesday (April 21). Describing how migrant workers like him have come to accept that this is how they get to work, Mr Uddin said these lorry rides could involve hours braving the sun and rain, sitting in a mandated 8 sq ft minimum space per worker in a lorry deck that he shares with site equipment, construction materials and other men. That daily experience led him to pen three chapters devoted to lorry rides in his recently released book Stranger to My World, which is a diary of his experiences in Singapore as a migrant worker, published by Epigram Books. In one of them, he wrote: “Low-income migrant workers like us just have to accept that we must be transported in unsafe lorries in this modern city.” The issue of ferrying construction workers in lorries is in the spotlight again following an accident along the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) involving a lorry and a tipper truck on Tuesday morning which killed one migrant worker and injured 16 others. The lorry driver has been arrested for careless driving. Police investigations are ongoing. The incident has sparked several calls on social media for the authorities to forbid employers from ferrying workers at the back of lorries. Former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Calvin Cheng wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that workers should be transported by minibuses with seat belts. Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, another former NMP, suggested the same: “We would never put up with a lorry transporting our children, our students, our own workers this way. This was an accident waiting to happen.” Under the Road Traffic Act, lorries and other goods vehicles cannot be used for private passenger transport, though the Act grants an exception for owners and lorry hirers to ferry their workers between their lodgings and worksites. This is subject to requirements such as capacity and maximum height limits. Others have suggested increased passenger safety standards, such as mandatory seat belts for lorry passengers. Seat belts are currently not a requirement for workers riding in the cargo deck of goods vehicles. Ms Dipa Swaminathan, who founded migrant worker advocacy group ItsRainingRaincoats, told TODAY: “Seat belts save lives and there is enough evidence to show it… It’s unfair that migrant workers do not get that safety feature.” “This incident can be a watershed moment for Singapore to finally regulate seat belts for lorry passengers.” TODAY has sought comment from the Building and Construction Authority and the Singapore Contractors Association. The Land Transport Authority declined comment due to ongoing police investigations into the incident. SUGGESTIONS AREN’T NEW, BUT WORTH A SECOND LOOK: INDUSTRY PLAYERS Mr Kenneth Loo, executive director and chief operating officer for Straits Construction, said such suggestions have been mooted in the past whenever there is a serious road accident involving migrant workers in cargo lorries. While cost is often thought of as a reason why measures such as seat belts are not adopted, Mr Loo said the truth is that construction firms are able to factor them in so long as they are given enough time to adjust. There should not be a snap decision to impose regulations because of one tragedy, he said. “Any fatal incident is one too many, but we should also look holistically at the road traffic statistics to see if existing measures have worked,” said Mr Loo. He noted that the density limits for workers in lorries have been reduced and there have been other improvements to safety over the years. In June 22, 2010, three workers were killed and six were hurt when the lorry they were in overturned on the PIE. The workers were flung off the vehicle, which had carried 15 workers when it was only permitted to carry 13. The incident led to calls from MPs to impose measures to ensure the safety of foreign workers. One MP, Mr Christopher de Souza from Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency, asked the Transport Ministry to consider legislating a requirement for employers to transport workers in buses with seat belts. Then-Transport Minister Raymond Lim said the Government would speed up the implementation of incoming safety measures, such as fitting canopies and higher side rails to existing lorries. The suggestion to use buses to transport workers, however, was not taken up as Mr Lim said the effectiveness of these improved measures should be studied “before concluding that they are insufficient and going for a ban”. Mr Johnny Lim Chee Hwa, a construction industry veteran who is now a consultant to several firms, explained that given the varying work hours for different groups of workers, it made sense that they were transported via lorries as opposed to buses that pick up workers only at scheduled times. “A large portion of workers typically stay off-site in multiple dorms, so you need multiple buses travelling different routes to transport workers to the site everyday. You will need thousands of buses for thousands of contractors and worksites in Singapore — is this optimal?” Lorries can also be used at the worksite to transport materials and equipment, whereas minibuses cannot be used for that purpose, he added. However, Mr Lim agreed that the suggestion to install passenger seat belts in the cargo decks of lorries was worth considering as it could improve safety. Both Mr Loo and Mr Lim said that any review will also need to look into the competency of the drivers too. The current speed limit for lorries on expressways is 60 kmph. Ms Swaminathan, who is also a lawyer, said she was concerned whether there was adequate rest for lorry drivers, especially if they are migrant workers who live in dormitories too. That would mean that they have to start their days early to ferry workers from various locations, she said. “For these guys, a momentary lapse of concentration can make the difference between life and death,” she said.


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