This article was first published on 18 May 2021 and has been updated with the latest safe management measures (SMM) for Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) measures.
Singapore was making good progress in curbing the spread of COVID-19 until early May 2021. This even led the government into easing safe management measures from 5 April 2021 – when up 75% of employees could be called back into the workplace.
Since then, we have backtracked due to a pattern of unlinked community cases in Singapore. The government initially tightened safe management measures (SMM) on 4 May 2021 – putting a cap on 50% of employees to be called back into office.
When this didn’t have the intended effect to stem community cases in Singapore, a second set of tightening measures – dubbed Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) lasting from 16 May to 13 June 2021 – was announced. Work-from-home also went back to being the default work arrangement again.
From 14 June 2021, we entered into a calibrated easing of safe management measures – dubbed Phase 3 (Heightened Alert). This essentially means the measures will be eased as improvements are seen in COVID-19 transmission.
Some Jobs Still Require Employees To Come In During Phase 3 (Heightened Alert)
While work-from-home remains the default work arrangement, some jobs require employees to be physically present at their workplaces.
As such, the tripartite partners (MOM, SNEF and NTUC) have updated the workplace safe management measures to allow greater flexibility for businesses, while mitigating the risk of widespread COVID-19 transmission.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has also been increasing enforcement of safe management measures. From 8 May to 21 May 2021, MOM inspected over 530 workplaces and issued fines to 11 companies. Employers need to declare (and update when there are changes to) your onsite manpower details on the Go Business website. Even if workers at your premise are within the limit, fines will still be issued if employees are found to be able to work from home.
#1 Businesses Should Ensure That Employees Are Well-Cared For
Employers must ensure that employees who are able to work-from-home do so. This means only employees who cannot work from home should be called into the office. Meetings between employees and with vendors should also be moved virtually where possible.
Vulnerable employees, i.e. those 60 and above, and those with medical conditions, should be given special attention. Employers can allow them to work from home, travel to and from work at off-peak timings, temporarily redeploy them to another role or take other appropriate measures to reduce their risk of infection.
For those who are required to be physically present at workplaces, employers should also:
- Stagger start times and allow flexible working hours / break time
- Avoid cross-deployment across worksites
- Avoid organising physical work-related events unless absolutely necessary
- Discontinue all social gatherings at the workplace
- Ensure that masks are worn at all times, except during activities that require the removal of masks
- Ensure that employees observe good personal hygiene
In general, workplace access should only be for essential employees and authorised visitors. Businesses must also use SafeEntry visitor management system to log the entry of all personnel. Employees are also required to keep a clear physical spacing of at least 1 metre.
This will significantly reduce footfall at workplaces and limit interactions which will help to sustain business operations should a case emerge at the workplace.
To better facilitate a work-from-home arrangement, employers can review their work processes and tap on government schemes such as the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) to incorporate the use of technology. As far as possible, employers are encouraged to continue with virtual meetings and trainings instead of organising physical ones.
In addition, employers should actively monitor their employees’ physical health with regular checks for temperature and respiratory symptoms. Employers should also encourage them to consult a doctor immediately if they are feeling unwell. If the employee is currently at his workplace, the employer must ensure that he leaves the workplace and consult a doctor immediately. Employers must also collect MCs and diagnoses provided for employees with COVID-19-related symptoms.
In an event of a confirmed case, employers should ensure that a follow-up plan is carried out and the following precautionary measures are deployed.
- Vacate and cordon-off the immediate section of the workplace premises where the confirmed case worked
- Carry out a thorough cleaning and disinfecting all relevant on-site areas and assets that were exposed to confirmed cases, in accordance to NEA guidelines
#2 Businesses Should Ensure That Workplaces Are Kept Clean
Maintaining a clean work environment is key to minimising the risk of an infection spread. In view of the spike in COVID-19 cases, employers should step up cleaning of workplace premises by ensuring regular cleaning / sanitisation of common spaces and touchpoints such as pantries and meeting rooms.
Cleaning and disinfecting agents must also be provided at the following areas:
- Cleaning agents (e.g. liquid soap, toilet paper) must be available at all toilets and hand-wash stations.
- Disinfecting agents (e.g. hand sanitisers) must be installed at all human traffic stoppage points within the workplace, such as entrances, reception areas, security booths and lift lobbies.
- Disinfecting agents (e.g. disinfectant sprays, paper towels and wipes) must be provided at meeting rooms and other common spaces such as pantries or canteens
#3 Businesses Should Implement A System Of Safe Management Measures
All businesses must control access to the workplace to only allow essential employees and authorised visitors to enter and leave the premises. Employers must also ensure that those who are entering the workplace check-in via TraceTogether-only SafeEntry.
In situations where physical interaction cannot be avoided, employers should take precautionary measures such as using visual indicators as demarcation of safe physical distances (at least 1m apart).
In addition, employers must establish a detailed monitoring plan to ensure compliance with Safe Management Measures (SMM). To help them in doing so, employers may appoint Safe Management Officer(s) to coordinate the implementation of SMM; conduct inspection and checks; remedy non-compliance; and keep records of inspections, checks and correction actions. Companies must also be able to show proof and/or documentation when requested.
What Happens When Businesses Breach Safe Management Measures
Under section 34 of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, first-time offenders will face a fine of up to S$10,000, imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both. Subsequent offences may face a fine of up to S$20,000, imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.
Those who wish to report breaches of Safe Management Measures or poor practices can do so via SnapSAFE.
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