Anyone who has been in Singapore over the last two weeks before the rain and hail took place would have noticed the incredible haziness hanging over their heads. Like a thick, fat cloud of burnt air looming over the island, the 2013 Indonesian forest fires made their unwelcome presence felt.
Even if you somehow didn’t notice the smell of burnt wood, you couldn’t have missed the people wearing masks over their faces to avoid breathing in the tiny harmful particles that can pollute the lungs.
Since the Commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health has the authority to issue such an order, many members of the public couldn’t understand why it had not been issued in the face of such “hazardous” PSI levels. After all, the NEA website was already advising people to “avoid all outdoor activity” when the PSI level exceeded 300!
“The Commissioner may also issue a Stop Work Order, which requires the specified work to cease until measures have been taken to ensure that the work can be carried out safely. An SWO is used in instances where severe lapses in safety and health conditions cause immediate danger to the persons at work. Failure to comply with either a Remedial Order or Stop Work Order is considered an offence.” (MoM website)
As pleas for the stop-work order went unheeded, talk arose about a “state of emergency”. Well, a state of emergency happens when the government “suspends a few normal functions of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers, alerts citizens to change their normal behaviours, or orders government agencies to implement emergency preparedness plans” (Wikipedia).
Incidentally, due to fortuitous wind conditions, the haze cleared over Singapore and plagued our neighbours instead. Malaysia was forced to declare a state of emergency in some areas when the Air Pollution Index reading reached 750. The Malaysian minister for natural resources and environment G. Palanivel officially stated that “there should be no outdoor activities and people must stay indoors until further notice in these areas.”
750 happens to be 87% greater than 401 (Singapore’s record 3-hour PSI high). Like one Sgthinker points out, a state of emergency was only declared in Muar, Johor when the API level hit 746. The previous documented state of emergency suggested that Malaysia would only declare a state of emergency when API reading exceeded 500.
In that event, “non-essential government services are suspended, and all ports in the affected area are closed. There may also be a prohibition on private sector commercial and industrial activities in the reporting area excluding the food sector”.
According to Sgthinker, even when AQI levels surpass 300 in America, the Environment Protection Agency says that kids can still occasionally go out to play (despite outdoor activities not being recommended). These international precedents seem to imply that 401 is an unjustifiable PSI level for calling a state of emergency or issuing a stop-work order. Some have disagreed, naturally, and some have called it karma that work on 3 MRT stations were halted.
Trivia but not trivial: the last time a state of emergency was declared in Singapore was June 1948, because political activists were terrorising civilians.
I guess a 401 PSI reading really does pale in comparison to political violence!