Environmental Public Health Act
The Environmental Public Health Act became law on 2 January 1969.1 The act was aimed at setting up a standard code to govern health-related matters in public cleansing services, markets, hawkers, food establishments and the general environment. It also integrated the functions of the Public Health Division. The act replaced Part IV of the Local Government Integration Ordinance, 1963, which contained provisions on the maintenance of public health.2
The Environmental Public Health Act was one of a series of measures to update Singapore’s health legislation and to improve public health standards. The objective was to transform Singapore into a clean and green city.3
Aiming for a clean and green city
With Singapore’s extensive and rapid industrialisation, environmental control in Singapore had increased in complexity. To increase efficiency, the Environmental Public Health Branch was reorganised in August 1968.4 The island was divided into districts that were further sub-divided into sectors, with each sector in the charge of a public health officer. These sector officers in turn reported to the officer responsible for the whole district. The reorganisation gave more authority to public health officers.5
The government introduced a stepped up cleaning programme with features such as the daily collection of rubbish.6 The round-the-year public cleansing programme was a prelude to the Keep Singapore Clean campaign which was launched on 1 October 1968.7 The objective of the campaign was to make Singapore the cleanest country in the region. It also aimed to involve every Singaporean and to educate the public on the importance of keeping Singapore clean.8
The government also introduced the Environmental Public Health Act with its tougher and more comprehensive legislation.9 The bill was first introduced by then Minister for Health Chua Sian Chin on 3 December 1968,10 passed by Parliament on 16 December 1968 and received assent on 23 December 1968. Except for Sections 88 to 100 which provided for legislation involving swimming pools and funeral parlours, the act came into effect on 2 January 1969.11
The main purpose of the act was to integrate the environmental health functions of the Public Health Division and to consolidate the services of public cleansing, markets, hawkers, food establishments, general health licensing, and environmental sanitation and hygiene into a single coordinated and cohesive code to be implemented by a unified authority.12 The act, which took a year to prepare, was modelled after similar legislation such as the United Kingdom’s Public Health Act, New Zealand’s Public Health Act and New York City’s Health Code.13
The Environmental Public Health Act was administered by the Commissioner of Public Health. The professional direction, however, was undertaken by the Public Health Authority comprising the Director of Medical Services and Deputy Director in charge of the Public Health Division. The commissioner and Public Health Authority came under the aegis of the Ministry of Health.14
Notable features of the Act
Some of the notable features in the act were the provisions against littering and the disposal of refuse in public places. Littering and the inappropriate disposal of refuse such as bottles and food containers in public places became offences punishable with a fine. Penalties were also imposed on those who deposited building materials waste in public places or failed to take precautions to prevent danger to others during building operations.15
To facilitate the removal of refuse, developers of housing estates and industrial complexes were required by the act to provide refuse chutes and refuse bin centres within the property. Building owners also had to carry out necessary repair and maintenance work on defective sanitary facilities within their premises and ensure that the drains were functioning properly. This was in addition to keeping their premises clean and ensuring that the premises were free from rat and vermin infestations, and overgrown vegetation.16
The act incorporated public health practices in the licensing and control of public and private markets, hawkers and food establishments. For instance, all stallholders and food handlers were required to undergo medical examination and immunisation. All food establishments had to comply with a set of regulations governing the preparation, storage, transport and sale of food. Hawkers were prohibited from setting up their stalls within 50 yards (45 m) of a market, school, hospital, government dispensary, clinic, place of worship or police station.17
The act also prepared for the formulation of regulations on cleanliness in swimming pools managed by hotels, clubs, associations and other organisations. Regulations could also be set to ensure funeral parlours carried out their functions appropriately without endangering public health.18 For instance, funeral parlours handling persons who had died of infectious diseases were required to seek the assistance of the Medical Officer of Health.19
Penalties such as fines were raised for offences against the act.20 The act gave the Commissioner of Public Health the authority to keep certain categories of public health offenders out of the courts by imposing fines on them instead. This was to speed up enforcement action and to reduce the number of cases landing up in court. The Commissioner of Public Health, the Medical Officer of Health and the Public Health Engineer were empowered to execute the necessary works specified in a notice served on a person who had failed to act on it.21
The stricter enforcement of the new Environmental Public Health Act resulted in more summonses being issued. In 1971, the number of summonses issued went up from 11,632 in 1971 to 18,622 in 1972.22 The number of public health inspections in housing estates was stepped up from 1,537 in 1970 to 29,536 in 1971.23 The number of public health inspections on markets, hawkers and food establishments also increased from 8,543 in 1969 to 14,641 in 1971, resulting in a reduction in the number of complaints and cases of food poisoning.24
The increase in inspections and enforcement led to better sanitation and living conditions. This was reflected by a marked reduction of dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever cases from 630 in 1966 to 64 in 1972.25 Health authorities were also able to eradicate diphtheria completely in Singapore with no cases reported in 1975, compared with 230 cases in 1965.26
Jamie Han & Lim Tin Seng
1. The Environmental Public Health Act 1968, Act 32 of 1968, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 315. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS)
2. The Local Government Integration Ordinance 1963, Act 18 of 1963, Government Gazette. Ordinances Supplement, 133 (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS-[HWE]); Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, vol. 28 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 16 December 1968, cols. 399–400. (Call no. RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
3. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, cols. 396–8.
4. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, 397.
5. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, 397.
6. “‘Cleanest State in Asia’ Drive from Next Week,” Straits Times, 8 August 1968, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Launched: Drive to Make Republic Asia's Cleanest,” Straits Times, 16 August 1968, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “The Public Must Cooperate,” Straits Times, 1 October 1968, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, 393–9; “Wide Powers for Big Clean-Up,” Straits Times, 17 December 1968, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Parliament of Singapore, First Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, vol. 28 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 3 December 1968, col. 21. (Call no. RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
11. The Environmental Public Health Act 1968, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 315.
12. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, 400.
13. Ministry of Environment, Singapore, Towards a Clean and Healthy Environment (Singapore: Ministry of Environment, 1973), 18. (Call no. RSING 614.7 SIN)
14. The Environmental Public Health Act 1968, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 315.
15. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, 403–4.
16. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, 404–6.
17. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, 405.
18. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, 408.
19. The Environmental Public Health Act 1968, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 380.
20. “Penalities Will Be Stiffer,” Straits Times, 6 December 1968, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environment Public Health Bill, 402.
22. Environmental Public Health Division, Singapore, Annual Report (Singapore: National Printers, 1972), 12. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957008232 SMEAR)
23. Ministry of Health, Singapore, Annual Report (Singapore: s.n., 1971), 10. (Call no. RCLOS 354.59570677 SMHAR)
24. Ministry of Health, Singapore, Annual Report, 26.
25. Ministry of Health, Singapore, Annual Report, 20.
26. Ministry of Health, Singapore, Annual Report, 52.
The information in this article is valid as of 12 May 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.