International Advisory Panel Recommends WSH in a Post-COVID World
1. The Government has accepted the recommendations of the 7th Meeting of the International Advisory Panel for Workplace Safety and Health (IAP), which recommended that Singapore positions its WSH strategy in a post-COVID world.
2. During the 7th IAP Meeting, which were held virtually on 22 and 26 October 2020 and 6 November 2020, the Panel engaged with members of the WSH Council, WSH Institute and key industry leaders. The IAP commended Singapore’s efforts in managing COVID-19, and the sustained progress in reducing workplace accidents.
IAP’s recommendations to strengthen WSH in a post-COVID world
3. The IAP had three broad recommendations:
For the health aspect of WSH to transcend traditional occupational health issues, to cover infectious disease prevention in the workplace as well. This should encompass not just Covid-19 but build resilience for future pandemics (“Disease X”) as well.
To improve workplace mental health support so as to address the blurring of work and personal life boundaries arising from more widespread work from home arrangements.
To not neglect accident prevention, even as attention and resources are focused on managing COVID-19.
The full report of the IAP’s recommendations can be found in the Annex.
Government Accepts IAP’s Recommendations
Strengthening Workplace Resilience Against Infectious Diseases
4. The IAP noted that globally, WSH agencies were responding to the workplace risks arising from COVID-19. They noted the whole-of-Government strategy that Singapore has adopted, and that workplace infection clusters had been successfully traced and contained. Singapore should further build on these capabilities to strengthen workplace resilience not just in the ongoing fight against COVID-19, but also to safeguard against future outbreaks. Hence, companies should enhance their pandemic preparedness, both now and in the longer term through risk management and quick response strategies as part of their business continuity plans.
5. Dr Park Doo Yong, President of the Korea Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA), said “Singapore has done well in managing the transmission of COVID-19 both in the community and workplaces. It is critical to integrate public health measures into workplace safety and health practices so as to be more effective in preventing the spread of infectious diseases at workplaces.”
6. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will work closely with employers to develop requirements and guidelines for workplace pandemic preparedness and increase the synergy between public health considerations and WSH policies to combat infectious disease management in the workplace environment.
Enhance Workforce Mental Health Support
7. The IAP called for better support for mental health at the workplace. The widespread introduction of work-from-home arrangements has led to the blurring of work-life boundaries, introducing additional stressors for workers.
8. IAP member Mr Wiking Husberg, International Consultant on Occupational Safety and Health, said “Mental health is important to both individuals as well as the productivity of businesses, but it is a difficult area to legislate. Singapore ought to focus on promoting greater awareness and creating a supportive work organisation and environment that is conducive towards employee’s mental well-being.”
9. The IAP recommended that employers incorporate mental well-being into their risk assessment frameworks. In line with this recommendation, MOM’s Workplace Safety and Health Institute is in the midst of piloting a web-based mental health assessment tool called iWorkHealth, for companies and their employees to identify sources of workplace stressors.
10. To address the blurring of work-life boundaries, the IAP supported the Government’s approach of developing guidelines on how companies can support their workers’ mental health. In particular, the IAP suggested that companies should set clear expectations on after-hours work communication norms, taking into account the work-life patterns and preferences of employees, rather than prohibit emails or messages after certain hours. Such rigidity may inadvertently add stress, and does not account for the diversity of work or care arrangements among different employees. This was the approach taken for the new Tripartite Advisory for Mental Well-being at Workplaces.
Retaining strong focus on traditional WSH
11. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of health to the fore, workplace safety cannot be neglected, especially to be vigilant against the urge to rush to catch up on lost time after the Circuit Breaker period.
12. While Singapore’s workplace fatality rate improved over the past four years, the workplace major injury rate worsened over the same period. The IAP recommended MOM to allocate more resources to conduct deeper investigations into the top contributor of major injuries – Slips, Trips and Falls accidents, to understand the root causes of this growing problem to arrest the rising trend. It was important to invest in research to better understand and thereby provide more targeted guidance for the industry.
13. The IAP also recommended placing greater expectations and accountability on company leadership to spur better accident prevention efforts in WSH, as the experiences of other countries showed that those who are responsible for the organization are also made responsible for safety and health. As such, the IAP welcomed the development of an Approved Code of Practice on ‘WSH Duties of Company Directors’, to educate company directors on their responsibilities to ensure that WSH risks are effectively managed.
14. MOM will continue to work closely with tripartite partners and industry stakeholders to apply the IAP’s recommendations, as we strive towards improving Singapore’s WSH in a post-COVID world.