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Speech at ProBE Plus Forum 2017

Mr Sam Tan, Minister of State for Manpower, Singapore Expo Max Atria

Mr Bernard Soh, President of Singapore Institute of Safety Officers,

Distinguish Guests,

Industry partners, 

Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to join you today at Programme-Based Engagement (ProBE) Plus Forum 2017. I am heartened to know there are more than 500 participants here today. I see many familiar faces from companies, unions, and associations who have been actively involved and working together with MOM and WSH Council to improve our standards in Workplace Safety and Health or WSH in short. Thank you for your continual support and commitment. 
  2. Since I joined MOM, I came across many unfortunate workplace accidents where our workers’ lives were taken away unnecessarily. Their family members had to grapple with the devastating news that their loved ones will never come home from work again. I have come across many reports of major injuries and fatality cases. To me, every case is not a statistic: it is a very sad story. 
  3. I recall a case where two workers fell to their deaths from seven storeys high when they were pushing an equipment onto an unsecured material platform. This was an unsafe work activity which arose from the ineffective implementation of the worksite’s risk assessment and management system. Despite knowing the risks of falling, the Supervisor insisted on completing the task resulting in the unfortunate accident. 
  4. In another case, two Construction Workers were resting when they were ran over by a reversing truck. The driver was not guided by a traffic controller and the workers were also not resting at their designated rest areas. I also remember the Production Operator whose fingers were cut off by the rotating parts of the machine while retrieving an empty bottle from the conveyor line. His employer did not take the necessary measures to fence up the dangerous parts of the machine. For these workers, I can only imagine the deep pain and sorrow their family members must have felt and gone through.

    Industry’s role in improving WSH
  5. We have said this many times before, but it bears repeating. These accidents are preventable. Time and again, our investigations revealed that the accidents could have been averted through the implementation of simple safety and health interventions by workers, supervisors and management. These include the conduct of proper risk assessments, safety training and adoption of safe work procedures. 
  6. A more concerted attitude on the part of both management and workers can make a difference in making their workplaces safe and healthy to operate in. For the past two years, our workplace fatality rate has stayed at 1.9 per 100,000 employed persons. There is still more work to be done to prevent the next accident. The Ministry of Manpower, the WSH Council, the WSH Institute and industry stakeholders are working together with workers and companies to bring down the fatality rate further.
  7. Based on the WSH Statistics for 20161 we have identified three priority areas for ProBE Plus 2017. They are (i) Falls Prevention, (ii) Onsite Vehicular Safety; and (iii) Prevention of Amputation Injuries. Let me share with you some upcoming initiatives to help industry improve WSH standards in these priority areas or WSH hotspots. 

    Priority Areas for ProBE Plus 2017

    (i)  Falls Prevention 
  8. First, Falls Prevention. This is still the top contributor in workplace fatalities, but concerted action by the industry have reduced the number of falls from heights fatalities by more than 45%, from 24 in 2009 to 13 in 2016. More can still be done, so let us intensify our efforts further. 70% of these accidents occurred in Small and Medium Enterprises. If our SMEs can start to positively push for a safer working environment for their workers, I am confident more lives can be saved. 
  9. We will step up our support to smaller construction worksites through our Mobile Work at Heights programme. In 2016, 80 Mobile Work at Heights visits were conducted and were well received by the industry. We will increase this to 300 this year. Under this programme, appointed WSH professionals will visit worksites and provide onsite practical guidance to supervisors and workers on Work at Heights safety. The aim is to equip our workers and supervisors with sufficient skills, understanding and knowledge, to enable them to implement Work at Heights safety precautions. 
  10. We are able to expand this programme because of the support from the Singapore Institute of Safety Officers. 17 of their members volunteered their precious personal time to participate in the Mobile Work at Heights programme last year. I will be presenting Certificates of Appreciation to them as a small gesture in recognition for their invaluable contributions towards promoting good Work at Heights practices in our workplaces and raising awareness on Work at Heights safety among our workers. Such initiative bodes well for the industry and I hope more will step forward to support the Mobile Work at Heights programme this year. 
  11. The WSH Council National Work at Heights Taskforce have also published a dedicated Work at Heights Case Study Booklet. It provides insights on how such accidents occurred and offers guidance on practical preventive measures. The booklet can be found in your goody bag and is also available on the WSH Council website.

    (ii)  Onsite Vehicular Safety
  12. Next, Onsite Vehicular Safety. In recent years, we have seen many incidents of workers being struck by moving vehicles in the workplaces. In 2016 alone, 12 workers were hit and killed by moving vehicles within workplaces, a 20% increase from 2015. It is the second highest contributor to workplace fatalities after fall from heights. These accidents were largely caused by the absence of a proper onsite vehicular safety management system. For example, there were no clear demarcation of pathways to segregate workers and vehicular traffic within the premises.
  13. Last year, we piloted an onsite vehicular safety programme to help companies with traffic safety management within their premises. Bok Seng Logistics Pte Ltd was one of the several companies that benefited from the programme. Mr. Steven Tan from Bok Seng Logistics will be sharing their experience with us later. The pilot has given us confidence to roll it out on a larger scale. We are therefore launching an onsite compliance assistance programme called “Managing Onsite Vehicular Safety”, or in short, “MOVeS.” Companies can look forward to free visits by WSH consultants, who will assess the work premises and guide the companies in developing and implementing onsite traffic safety management plans. With these customised plans, companies will be able to better manage the risks involving the movement and operation of vehicles within their premises. I strongly urge companies to take this opportunity and sign up for the programme to improve their onsite vehicular safety.
  14. A Vehicular Safety Seminar is also planned later this year. This is to raise awareness on the risks of working near moving vehicles. It will bring together subject matter experts, practitioners and industry stakeholders to share their experiences in this area. We hope that through such active sharing, businesses exposed to similar risks will be aware of the dangers and can adopt the necessary precautionary measures to address onsite vehicular safety issues within their premises. 

    (iii)  Prevention of Amputation Injuries 
  15. Lastly, we are making prevention of amputation injuries a ProBE Plus priority area this year. We are concerned with the increasing trend of amputation cases. 143 amputation cases were reported in 2016, an increase of 22% from 2015. More than 70% involved the use of industrial machines and tools. Hand injuries accounted for about 90% of all cases. 
  16. We must do more to help workers like the Production Operator I mentioned earlier, who lost his fingers in an unguarded machine. MOM and WSH Council will organise a ‘Safe Hands’ Solutioning Session and Seminar in the second half of the year. Through this platform, we hope to educate the industry on the proper use of hand tools and machine safety. Industry case studies will also be shared to help the participants understand good practices and put in place preventive measures such as machine guards to eliminate hand injuries. 

    Conclusion 
  17. Making a living should not cost the worker his limbs or life. We owe it to the worker and his family to provide him with a safe and healthy workplace. We must continue to press on with our efforts to raise awareness, build strong WSH capabilities and extend the reach of risk management implementation across all workplaces to improve our WSH performance. 
  18. From what I have mentioned earlier, the Ministry of Manpower has a very busy WSH agenda this year. In the later part of this year, more than 2,000 WSH practitioners, professionals and experts are expected to attend the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work. International renowned experts on WSH will be sharing their WSH experiences at the Congress and Symposium and I look forward to seeing many of you there. 
  19. Workplace Safety and Health is everyone’s responsibility. Together, we can prevent all injuries and be healthy at work. This afternoon’s sharing by WSH practitioners will provide us with another opportunity to learn from their expertise on how to maintain good WSH standards. Together we can make ourselves and our fellow co-workers safe. 
  20. On that note, I wish all of you a successful forum. Thank you. 

FOOTNOTE

  1. Please refer to the media release on the WSH Statistics Report 2016 for more details.
Last Updated: 20 April 2017