SINGAPORE: A few years ago, migrant worker Lee (not his real name) and colleagues were traveling to work in the back of a truck traveling over the humps of a parking lot.
There were also metal items on the back cover, and the driver’s negligence was enough to injure Lee and a companion.
An examination at the hospital showed a muscle tear in Lee’s waist. “It simply came to our notice then. I can’t bend over and lift things in one go, ”he said.
Asking for anonymity for fear of having his work permit revoked because he was speaking, he added, “Sitting in the back (of a truck) is a pretty dangerous thing.”
He has worked in Singapore for 14 years and, although he and his co-workers often talk about his mode of transport, he feels it is “useless” as his boss is already “well aware” of the risks.
“The metal bars are not fixed; they are not fixed to the truck. They would fly (in a collision), “Lee said.
The relocation of workers in trucks has once again come under the spotlight after recent setbacks.
Two accidents were reported in April that affected trucks carrying workers. In one of the accidents, which occurred on the Pan Island Expressway, two people died – Indian worker Sugunan Sudheeshmon and Bangladeshi Toffazal Hossain -.
READ: A review of the practice of transporting workers in trucks after two accidents is requested
READ: PIE truck accident: second worker dies in hospital
In May, another accident occurred with a police van and a truck carrying 11 workers.
As of July 19, a Change.org petition for the transportation of workers in vans or buses garnered more than 22,000 signatures. So why does the practice persist despite security issues? Can injuries and deaths from truck accidents be prevented?
In an episode of Talking Point investigating the issue, a few Singaporeans had the pleasure of riding in the back of a truck.
They came to the same realization after having difficulty getting caught, as the truck was heading to a go-kart circuit at 50 miles per hour.
One of them, Dennis Chan, said, “At first, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s going to be fun.’
“I thought it was going to be a lot of fun, but after that, I don’t think I’ll do it again,” said Christabelle Sng, another participant.
“There’s really nothing in place and, if there is a sudden abruptness, there’s a good chance of flying.”
SEE: We try to ride behind a truck like migrant workers (4:05)
Asked if he would agree to take a truck to work every day, a third participant, Dominic Ng, replied, “No. I have a wife, I have a son; it’s not worth the risk. ”
Security expert Natarajan Krishnamurthy said a truck is more dangerous than a bus or van because it is structurally “much weaker.” It is also more exposed: in the absence of restrictions, people are thrown out.
Passengers can grab a handle in normal traffic conditions, “but if there is an accident, the force on the hand would be excessive and the grip would break,” he said.
NOT PERMITTED, EXCEPT FOR WORKERS
However, transporting workers by truck persists because other options are more expensive.
Under the law on wheeled traffic, the use of passenger goods vehicles is not permitted, except for employees who are carrying out the activity of the owner or contractor of the vehicles.
Freight vehicles can also carry sick or injured people in an emergency.
Prime Minister (Transport) Amy Khor told Parliament in May that there are very important practical and operational issues (in addition to cost considerations), which is probably why, at the international level, it is not a unusual practice “.
READ: Ministry of Transport reviews safety measures for trucks transporting workers: Amy Khor
With the construction industry “severely” affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said it is possible that more regulations will affect the completion of several construction projects and “lead to the disappearance of some companies and the loss of livelihoods of the workers”.
Low-wage migrant workers in sectors such as construction make up the majority of truck passengers in Singapore. And companies buy trucks because they can be deployed in a variety of ways, said Peh Ke Pin, director of PQ Builders.
“If I buy a van, the van would only transfer workers in the morning and at night. But (for) the rest of the day, I can’t use it (to transport) materials, ”he said.
“But (trucks always transport material because we have several places, so the cost per use is much lower than that of a van and a bus.”
While the industry could “move towards” transporting workers in buses and vans in the future, he said using trucks “remains the most efficient and practical way” from now on.
In different countries, practices vary when transporting workers. In cities such as London and Hong Kong, it is forbidden to drive behind trucks. Bahrain, with a sizeable immigrant working population like Singapore, also banned the practice in 2009.
But countries such as Canada, Thailand and the United States allow passengers to be transported on the back deck of goods vehicles traveling on roads, albeit with safety precautions and some restrictions, Khor was quoted as saying in Parliament.
Singapore improved some safety standards in 2009 and 2010. For example, maximum passenger capacity should be clearly shown and front seats should be occupied before people can sit in the back of trucks.
Passengers, seated, must not be more than 1.1 meters from the vehicle deck. They should have a minimum seating area of four square feet.
INFLATABLE JACKETS AN OPTION?
With the help of technology creator Akbar Yunus of design firm Yunora, Talking Point explored some prototypes designed to make trucks safer for rear passengers.
These ideas were presented to Member of Parliament Alex Yam and Associate Professor Yap Fook Fah, co-director of the Transportation Research Center of Nanyang Technological University.
Ideas included: Seat belts; folding seats with seat belt and handle; and seats with a three-point seat belt.
Each had its limitations and security risks. For example, Yam, who has raised the issue of truck accidents in Parliament, noted that the option with handles meant additional points of impact and possible damage in a collision.
WATCH: The Complete Episode – Transporting Our Migrant Workers: Can It Be Safer? (23:19)
And while the three-point seat belt is effective in preventing injuries to cars, that only applies to forward-facing seats, Yap said.
“They have not been shown to be effective in side-facing seats in frontal collisions and there are possible (per) neck injuries (due to) lateral movement,” he said.
Seat belts must also be firmly anchored to withstand the force of a collision. “For an average adult involved in a (a) 60 km / h collision, the type of force (required) to brake the passenger is about two tons, or 30 G,” Yap said.
One option to explore could be the safety helmet or even inflatable vests, like the one some motorists wear, he suggested.
Yam noted that some companies transport their workers by bus, and this “has not raised their cost as much.” This is especially true when small businesses work together and share resources when transporting workers to the same place or bedroom.
“This is a direction we can move in,” he said.
Khor noted in May that the number of people aboard trucks that were injured or killed in traffic accidents has been on a downward trend over the past decade.
READ: Fewer people killed in truck accidents since safety measures were introduced in 2009: LTA
In 2019, the injury rate was about 8.1 people per 1,000 trucks, down from 8.4 people injured per 1,000 vehicles overall.
In terms of deaths, an average of nine people were killed aboard trucks annually in traffic accidents from 2011 to 2015. It dropped to 2.6 per year from 2016 to last year.
The government “will continue to review security rules” and involve stakeholders “to see how to improve these measures,” Khor said.
Watch this episode of Talking Point here. The program is broadcast on channel 5 every Thursday at 9.30 pm.