The Code of Practice on Chief Executives' and Board of Directors' Workplace Safety and Health Duties ("COP") was launched on 19 September 2022, and is expected to be gazetted as an Approved COP by October 2022. Once gazetted, the COP will be relevant in the event of offences under the Workplace Safety and Health Act 2006 ("WSH Act"), as the Courts can consider compliance to the COP in determining the liability of the organisation and its management team.
The COP was launched by the Workplace Safety and Health Council1 of the Tripartite Alliance for Workplace Safety and Health and the Ministry of Manpower ("MOM") following a public consultation on the draft version of the COP ("draft COP") conducted from 12 August 2022 to 8 September 2022. For more information on the earlier public consultation, please see our Legal Update here.
The launch of the COP is particularly relevant in light of the poor safety record and the increase in the number of workplace fatalities in Singapore in 2022. The Government has refocused its attention and vigilance on workplace safety and health ("WSH"), highlighting the WSH obligations of employers and occupiers, including Chief Executives and Board of Directors (collectively referred to here as "Company Directors"). It should be noted that WSH includes both physical health and mental well-being, and that organisations should ensure that both aspects are addressed in their WSH policies.
The COP sets out the principles that Company Directors should observe in improving WSH performance and management, as well as the practical measures that should be taken to give effect to these principles. In this Update, we highlight the key principles and measures in the COP, and the effect of the COP being gazetted as an Approved COP.
Effect of the COP
The COP functions in tandem with the existing WSH duties imposed on Company Directors, meaning that the failure to comply with the COP's principles and measures could result in serious consequences, particularly in light of the tough stance that MOM seeks to take to improve WSH.2
In particular, the COP is relevant in determining whether Company Directors have breached their statutory duties under the WSH Act to exercise due diligence to prevent WSH lapses. Where an organisation breaches its WSH duties regarding the maintenance of safety, health and welfare, its Company Directors are also deemed to be guilty of the offence unless they have exercised due diligence. These offences are punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both.
Where the COP has not been complied with, Company Directors may find it difficult to show that they have exercised the due diligence required of them, thus opening them up to statutory penalty. Once the COP has been gazetted as an Approved COP, the Courts can consider compliance with the COP when determining a WSH Act offence. Adherence to the principles of the COP could thus be seen as a mitigating factor to avoid liability under the WSH Act.
Organisations and Company Directors should be aware that MOM has indicated that it intends to gazette the COP as an Approved COP by October 2022.3
Scope of WSH and Mental Health
The COP will apply to all companies, regardless of industry type and organisation size. Company Directors should calibrate the measures based on the relevance to their organisations, including industry type and nature of exposure to risks and hazards.
Organisations and businesses should note that WSH includes both safety and health, which includes mental well-being, as highlighted by MOM.4 Although the focus of WSH efforts has traditionally been on the front of physical safety, employers should ensure that they do not neglect the mental health aspect of WSH. The COP thus applies even in industries that have no manual work and little risk of physical injury.
Organisations operating in such industries, such as those with primarily office or retail operations whose employees are desk or station-based, often run the risk of treating WSH duties as an afterthought, or as something that is meant to apply to other types of businesses. However, the inclusion of mental health in the scope of WSH brings into focus the fact that WSH is the responsibility of all employers across all industries. Company Directors in industries without manual work should be aware that the COP is relevant to their management decisions as well.
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1 Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP Partner, Simon Goh, Head of Insurance & Reinsurance, sits as a Council Member of the Workplace Safety and Health Council, where he also holds the position of Co-Chair of the Outreach and Engagement Committee.
2 See Speech by Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng at the Workplace Safety and Health Conference 2022, available here.
4 Supra note 2.
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