Saturday, October 9, 2010

Risk assessment in Singapore

Today's newspaper reported the incident of silts from building site leaking into two rivers feeding drinking water system in Singapore. While there does not seem to be a clear indication of preventive action, there is also no clear indication that the builder will even be punished.

What I come to realize in Singapore is how risk assessment has become an empty catch word. Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSHA) requires companies to do so, but there is no enforcement scheme. I never know of any requirement for environmental assessment before construction as well. All these, I suspect, are in the name of progress. After all, doing proper risk assessment require some initial investment (read: COST) which burdens the company. Worse, even saying that risk assessment will prevent further cost, the FUTURE COST is not something easily tangible and seen at present. Hence, things are easily ignored.

The case on silt which is reported is a highly probable sign that little to no environment assessment via risk assessment was carried out before construction. If they have carried out the assessment, most likely they would have realized that Singapore tends to rain all year long and the location of their site is near river feeding to drinking water system. Hence, there shall be a need to ensure no run off of building materials or waste into the rivers. Sadly, no such thoughts seem to exist. In addition, for PUB, nothing seems to have gone wrong. 

It is also a sad practice that risk assessment becomes a task for a single person sitting down in the office. How would that person be able to cover issues from multi disciplinary field? Or is it simply for convenience sake when things go wrong? After all, it is easier to blame one than a group of people?

From what I can see, Singapore's risk management system is far than working. Unless remedial action in improving the safety culture and enforcement, I am afraid that we are waiting for big ugly event to occur. Hopefully it won't be as bad as the red sludge in Hungary.

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