Mustafa returned to Bangladesh for a break just before the COVID-19 pandemic and was unable to return to work in Singapore for the next two years due to border restrictions.

With no money left, he wanted to come to Singapore as soon as possible and took any available job. He also paid over S$4,000 in recruitment fees just to come and work here.

He said that had he reported to his employer, he would have been sent home. “I lent you a lot of money, so when you get it back, how are you going to pay it back?” he asked. But now that he injured his leg, he may not be able to do any heavy lifting in the future.

Employers have a lot of power over migrant workers because recruitment costs are high and workers borrow money to work here, said Luke Tan, case manager at HOME. Said there was

“The more costs they incur, the more fear they will have,” he said.

Tan said even before COVID-19, many companies were taking on too many projects, hiring too few workers, or neglecting safety measures to cut costs. He feels that it should cost more for companies to violate safety regulations because human lives are at risk.

“Instead of administrative sanctions, we hope the authorities can consider tougher, harsher measures against employers found to be non-compliant with safety regulations.”

Cost savings, lack of equipment

As Mustafa explained, workers want to be safe, but they sometimes don’t have the resources to do so.

CNA, a workplace safety expert, told us that safety begins at the planning and budgeting stage, and by the time inspections are made, it can be too late.

Han Wenqi, an experienced safety consultant, said in his many years of experience in the industry, he said that no manager or supervisor has budgeted for safety measures that a developer deems necessary. He said he often ran into situations like this.

Workers may wear safety harnesses, but these are not attached to lifelines or hooked to points where the lifelines cannot support the worker’s weight. Workers are still at risk of falling “just with the addition of full-body harnesses,” he said, adding that this “will set back time and money.”

Not only is the safety equipment expensive, he said, but after making the necessary calculations, a professional engineer would need to install the lifeline anchor points. However, some sites omit this step.

“They will control spending by abandoning security measures or having no security measures,” he said. He believes this is related to how projects are often awarded to the lowest bidder.

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