SAF to set up Inspector-General's Office to enforce safety practices

(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will set up an Inspector-General’s Office to ensure “command emphasis on safety is consistently applied” across all units, said the Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Melvyn Ong on Thursday (31 January).

The office will have the full authority to scrutinise and enforce safety processes and practices at all levels of the SAF, LG Ong added, according to a statement by the Ministry of Defence (Mindef).

LG Ong was speaking at a “command call” held at Pasir Laba Camp on Thursday afternoon, where he met with 750 active and operationally-ready National Service (NS) commanders to share plans on how to make training safer for servicemen.

The meeting was also attended by Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Goh Si Hou, Chief of Air Force Major-General Mervyn Tan, Chief of Navy Rear-Admiral Lew Chuen Hong, and all senior commanders of the SAF.

Speaking to the media after the command call, MG Goh also shared that the army will expand the number of safety inspection teams and full-time safety officers to conduct checks and audits on the safety systems across the units.

This will be part of the army’s efforts to strengthen safety management structures on the ground, he said.

A safety time-out that was put in place after the death of Corporal First Class (National Service) and late actor Aloysius Pang will be lifted progressively after next Thursday, MG Goh added.

As such, all army units will be allowed to resume basic types of training such as physical fitness training, small arms live-firing, Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and IPPT Preparatory Training (IPT) for Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) from 7 February. 

CFC (NS) Pang, 28, an armament technician – together with another technician and a gun detachment commander – were called in to perform diagnosis on a suspected fault in the gun of a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH) on 19 January.

He suffered “crush” injuries to his chest and abdominal areas after being caught between the end of the lowering gun barrel and the interior of the SSSH.

Pang, who was from the 268th Battalion Singapore Artillery, was one of more than 500 soldiers participating in Exercise Thunder Warrior in New Zealand when the incident occurred.

Pang succumbed to his injuries last Wednesday, making him the fourth Singapore Armed Forces (SAF)-training related fatality reported in 16 months.

He was the first soldier to be injured due to the gun lowering for maintenance of the SSPH since its commission in 2003, said Mindef on Wednesday, adding that there were also no servicemen injured due to operating in or the firing of the howitzer over the period.

Following his death, top SAF commanders called for an army-wide safety timeout as well as a reduction in training tempo across the army, navy and the air force to assess safety protocols and plans in their units.

In the Mindef-issued statement on Thursday, LG Ong called for all servicemen to adopt a “zero accident” mindset, and to go about their daily tasks with alertness and mindfulness to “do things right the first time, every time”.

“Safety is a command responsibility. Commanders answer for the training and safety of their men. To do so, commanders have to be fully committed and personally and intimately involved in their unit’s training, operations, and safety,” said LG Ong.

“The reduction in training tempo will allow us commanders to take stock, re-orientate, and give full attention to this.”

Mindef said on Wednesday that a five-member Committee of Inquiry was convened last Friday by the Armed Forces Council to investigate the circumstances leading to Pang’s death.

Chaired by a judge nominated by the State Courts, the committee will include a consultant medical specialist, a member of the External Review Panel on SAF Safety (ERPSS), a member of the Workplace Safety and Health Council, and a senior-ranked national serviceman.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen is set to deliver a Ministerial Statement addressing the recent NS deaths at the next parliamentary sitting on 11 February.

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