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Speech at Launch of The National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign 2007

Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister of State for Education and Manpower, HDB Hub Mall

Mr Lee Tzu Yang
Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Advisory Committee

Mr John de Payva
President, National Trades Union Congress

Mr Chua Thian Poh
Vice-Chairman, Singapore Business Federation

Members of the Workplace Safety and Health Advisory Committee

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good Afternoon

I am pleased to join you today at the launch of the National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign 2007. First, let me commend the organiser, the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Advisory Committee, for successfully bringing together more than 30 organisations to support this month-long Campaign.

We have made progress, but we must not let up

2. Such strong industry ownership and support for WSH initiatives and activities have contributed to the steady improvements in safety and health outcomes over the past two years. Since the start of the reform of the workplace safety and health framework in March 2005, the work-related fatality rate has fallen by more than one-third – from 4.9 per 100,000 workers in 2004 to 3.1 in 2006.  These results are encouraging. We are on the right track. Indeed, our legislative reform and strategies have received strong endorsement from the International Advisory Panel when they visited us in November last year.
3. However, we must sustain the reform efforts and build on the momentum.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, our economy should continue to grow steadily over the next few years. Major developments like the construction of the Integrated Resorts will help to boost the growth of our key economic sectors.   MOM expects that more than 450,000 new jobs will be created over the next five years. As business activity picks up, we must ensure that there is no let-up in improvements in safety and health systems, processes and culture at the workplace.

The battle plan (WSH 2015) hinges on the commitment of Everyone@Work

4. To help us build on this momentum, I am pleased to launch the WSH 2015, the 10-year battle plan that will guide and channel the combined resources of all stakeholders towards our vision of “a safe and healthy workplace for everyone”, and for “Singapore to become a country renowned for best practices in Workplace Safety and Health”. Jointly developed by the WSH Advisory Committee and MOM, the WSH 2015 has been reviewed by more than 1,500 stakeholders, including the International Advisory Panel, over a period of four months. The comments and suggestions have been incorporated into the four key strategies outlined in the plan.

Strategy one – Building strong capability to better manage WSH
5. The first strategy is to build strong capability to better manage WSH. To support this strategy, the WSH Advisory Committee serves as an active member of the WSH Manpower Skills and Training Council, or MSTC.  The MSTC and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency jointly developed the WSH training and competency frameworks that will facilitate training and certification of WSH standards.  Since the start of this month, MOM has also extended the maximum employment period for skilled Work Pass holders to 18 years. This will facilitate the retention of experienced foreign workers who are more familiar with the WSH standards and practices in their workplaces. 

Strategy two – Implementing an effective regulatory framework
6. The second strategy is to implement an effective regulatory framework. MOM will continue to review the various WSH-related subsidiary legislations to align them with the new outcome-based approach adopted in the Workplace Safety and Health Act.  MOM has also re-aligned its enforcement efforts to place greater emphasis on industry engagement so as to secure the commitment and ownership of stakeholders. This is the essence of the Programme-based Engagement (ProBE) initiative, through which MOM engages industry players to work on areas that require targeted and strategic intervention. This year's ProBE will focus on four priority areas, namely working at heights, forklift, lifting equipment and work in noisy environment.

Strategy three – Promoting the benefits of WSH and recognising best practises
7. The third strategy is to promote the benefits of WSH and recognize best practices. It is important for companies to acknowledge that good WSH practices are an integral part of their business competitiveness and sustainability. MOM will therefore continue to support events like the National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign and other programmes that recognise companies and employees who have been exemplary in building safe and healthy workplaces.

Strategy four – Developing strong partnerships both locally and internationally
8. The fourth strategy seeks to develop strong partnerships both locally and internationally. In the one and a half years since its formation, the WSH Advisory Committee has become the focal point for industry players to work together to achieve WSH outcomes. The Committee is ideally positioned to be at the forefront to implement WSH 2015. It will continue to expand its leadership role in strengthening industry capabilities and performance in workplace safety and health. This expanded role of the Committee was strongly advocated by the International Advisory Panel. MOM has therefore been working closely with the existing Committee to determine the next steps towards the expansion of its role.  This would include the issuance and review of WSH codes of practice, as well as compliance assistance for industry. MOM is fully committed to supporting the expanded role of the Committee. More details will be made available when the plans are finalised. 

More help for SMEs

9. One area in which the Committee has built up its expertise is in setting WSH standards and providing compliance assistance. I would like to commend the Committee for its leadership in developing bizSAFE. This is a major industry-driven initiative to address one of the International Advisory Panel's recommendations, to offer compliance assistance to the 130,000 SMEs in Singapore. bizSAFE will guide participating SMEs through a step-by-step approach to raise capabilities in managing safety and health at the workplace. Let me elaborate.

10. The involvement of top management is pivotal in driving a strong WSH culture in companies. bizSAFE recognises this. Its 5-step process starts right from the top management who would show their commitment by attending a half-day course on the management's role in WSH. The next step is to help these companies gradually build up their WSH capability and competencies through access to training and consultancy services offered by bizSAFE service providers. Large organisations with strong WSH capability and leadership will also be enlisted as mentors to guide SMEs. Another key feature of bizSAFE is the emphasis placed on competitiveness and business viability. The WSH Advisory Committee has approached large companies, who are the customers of SMEs, to participate in the programme as bizSAFE partners. These bizSAFE partners can shape the behaviour of SMEs by encouraging their subcontractors to participate in bizSAFE and helping them progress through the 5-step recognition process.

11. MOM will support bizSAFE by making available the Risk Management Assistance Fund to help SMEs get started on risk management at their workplaces. I understand that over 50 companies have so far expressed an interest in participating in bizSAFE. This is a commendable start.  The WSH Advisory Committee will pilot the scheme with these early movers to fine tune the process before we officially launch bizSAFE in second half of this year.  I am confident that the Committee will be able to meet its target to reach out to more than 1,000 SMEs through bizSAFE in a year's time.

Book of Pledges as a testimony of our commitment to improve WSH

12. I cannot over emphasise the importance of industry ownership for better WSH outcomes. This message is echoed in the campaign theme SHINE@Work or "Safety and Health Involves Everyone@Work". I urge you to involve yourself today, right now, by showing your support for our battle plan – the WSH 2015. Make a pledge on your support for workplace safety and health through the Campaign's “Book of Pledges”. I am pleased to share that, for a start, the Committee has already secured the commitment and pledge of the Singapore Business Federation representing the employers, and the National Trades Union Congress representing the employees.

Conclusion

13. In closing, allow me to extend my appreciation to all the industry stakeholders for your support for the National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign. With the battle plan in hand and the commitment of all stakeholders, let us continue to work together for a safer and healthier work environment for our workers. Thank you.