25 November 2011

Charting the next steps in Singapore’s Workplace Safety and Health journey

25 November 2011

Last week, the International Advisory Panel (IAP) for Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) met for the third time here to review Singapore’s progress in WSH. We mapped out how Singapore can further enhance our WSH standards, since our last meeting in 2008 and I’ve co-chaired all three of them. Still, I found it very enriching and interesting meeting international thought leaders on WSH.

The topic of safety and health has always been close to my heart. I truly believe that we need to engage hearts in order to make a true difference. Oftentimes, we get caught up in the numbers and measurement but neglect what truly matters. Every single life lost to an entirely preventable work incident is regrettable. The grief of family members is saddening. If all of us remember the impact of unsafe work and consequence of taking a short cut, we will be able to prevent many work incidents.

As we reflect on Singapore’s WSH journey, we are heartened by the significant strides made in reducing the fatality rate from 3.1 fatalities per 100,000 persons employed in 2006 to 2.2 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2010. Nevertheless, we remain cautious as 30 lives were lost in the first half of this year. It is timely to re-look and re-evaluate what we have done well and what we can further improve.

We have pushed WSH high on the national agenda by extending the WSH Act to all workplaces as of September this year. The WSH Council organised several roadshows and clinics to prepare the industry for this extension. We ensured more WSH training for professionals, supervisors and workers. In terms of infrastructure, we established the new WSH Institute to spearhead WSH research and identify emerging WSH risks. In order to ensure full compliance with the law, we increased our inspections.

In our two days of discussions, the IAP members shared their international observations and proposed nine recommendations to the Government. One that I personally feel strongly about is developing our WSH culture and in this area, it is all about having the heart to make a difference. Even as 46 CEOs from the Construction and Marine industries have pledged for zero injuries, there remains those who do not have the commitment to do what is necessary. Therefore, we must press on with efforts to engage hearts beyond workplaces and cultivate a safety mindset early. Specifically, the IAP advised that safety and health values should be inculcated in the young. Children are more impressionable and receptive of new values or beliefs. For example, in Finland, safety messages are included in the educational curriculum of children through creative and engaging activities, and forming WSH committee of students. When these children join the workforce later in their life, they are natural advocates of safety. Together with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Ministry of Education, we hope to assess this recommendation and implement it in Singapore.

SPS at the Plenary Session
SPS at the Plenary Session during Q&A

Another key point also struck a chord with me – addressing workplace health issues early. While Singapore grapples with an ageing workforce and how we can help them be employed longer, it is pertinent that our workers stay healthy so they can continue to hold meaningful jobs and stay productive. In many developed nations in Europe, workplace health issues have risen in prominence with more of such cases reported than that of work injuries. The experience of nations such as the United Kingdom tells us that we should not wait for cases of chronic diseases to be reported when workers are in their 50s or 60s. It will be too late by then to take intervention measures. Hence, the IAP suggests that Singapore look at gathering evidence including workplace health indicators and performance statistics of those in their 30s or 40s. These data will become very useful to us to evaluate and address existing and emerging workplace health issues so that we can help our workforce to stay healthy and hence, extend their working life. This preventive approach would serve us well, and this is something MOM will be examining closely.

I am also encouraged that the IAP members believe that Singapore’s WSH Institute has the potential to grow to become a leading centre in Asia for risk observatory, through focusing on new and emerging risks in Asian countries.

I admire the IAP members for their wealth of knowledge in WSH matter and their enthusiasm in promoting safety and health at the workplace. Professor Jorma Rantanen of Finland and Mr Walter Eichendorf of Germany, for example, have on their part have expressed admiration for the Singapore Government’s leading role in promoting WSH. However, we all agree that the state cannot achieve much without the industry and company-level leadership, and if workers of all levels do not have the knowledge, awareness and motivation to keep their own workplace safe for themselves and their fellow workers.

SPS delivering Closing Remarks at Plenary Session

I would like to extend my personal thanks to the seven IAP members who deliberated the WSH issues with us.

For us to succeed in these areas that I’ve highlighted, your support is crucial. I urge you to take the time and think about how simple actions to ensure safety and health at work can go a long way to protecting our employees and our future workforce as well. We must spare no efforts in the area of safety and work towards a vision of a nation that is fully committed to a safe and healthy workplace for all.

Hawazi Daipi
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and  Manpower 
Co-Chair of the International Advisory Panel
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