Worker safety and health in countries that supply many American and European retailers and manufacturers is increasingly on the radar of businesses, consumers, and governments. Consumers are demanding that corporations pay more attention to fair labor practices and sustainable environmental practices. Human rights organizations and labor unions are trying to create a more level international playing field with respect to worker safety and environmental regulation. And governments in the countries whose regulations and enforcement have been among the most criticized are taking steps to rehabilitate their image in the eyes of the international business community and their own citizens.
Most recently, China and Singapore have moved in the direction of increased protection for workers from occupational hazards.
In August 2015, a barrel of nitro-cotton—just one small container at the Ruihai International Logistics chemical warehouse in Tianjin, China that was illegally storing 11,300 tons of hazardous chemicals—self-ignited. The fire spread quickly, triggering an explosion that killed173 people, injured nearly 800 others, and left a toxic crater where the factory had been. The explosion was disastrous, but not surprising; China’s rapid industrialization has come at the expense of worker safety and environmental protection.
The country keeps trying to set its regulatory and enforcement ship aright, thus far without success. Hazardous chemical regulations that were put in place in 2012, but poorly enforced, were altogether scrapped in July 2016 as part of a nationwide effort to reduce red tape.
In its latest effort to reduce workplace disasters, China has embarked upon a 4-month nationwide enforcement effort. The Work Safety Committee of the State Council announced on July 3 that it would conduct inspections in all regions and all industries across the country with the intent of shutting down unsafe workplaces, severely punishing companies that violate safety laws, and requiring the elimination of hazards and the implementation of safety measures. Will this latest effort make a dent in China’s workplace accidents and fatalities? Stay tuned.
Singapore’s workplace safety record is among the best in Asia; its rate of occupational fatalities in 2014 was just 1.8 per 100,000 workers, compared to 3.3 in the United States that year and 1.61 in Australia. However, a spike in work-related fatalities and nonfatal injuries in 2016 led to concerns that the country’s occupational safety performance was heading in the wrong direction.
On July 4, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced a new initiative, the Workplace Safety and Health 2018 Plus initiative, aimed at controlling workplace injuries and fatalities. The initiative, which includes amendments to Singapore’s Workplace Safety and Health Act, will increase penalties for safety and health violations and release public reports on workplace incidents. The initiative will focus on three areas of concern: fall prevention, motor vehicle safety, and amputations.