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Speech at The Launch of The Construction Safety, Health and Security Campaign 2007

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower, Circle Line 5, Pasir Panjang Road

Mr Desmond Hill,
President, The Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL)

Mr Eugene Yong,
Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Construction Advisory Sub-committee

Mr Sim Wee Meng,
Acting Group Director (Rail), Land Transport Authority

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning,

I am honoured to join you this morning at the launch of SCAL's Construction Safety, Health and Security Campaign. Let me begin by thanking SCAL and its partners for organising this campaign for a remarkable 24th year running. I look forward to your continued efforts in promoting workplace safety and health or WSH.

Growth of the Construction Industry

2.   The past year has seen renewed optimism in the construction industry's growth, with the advent of many new and exciting construction projects like the Integrated Resorts and projects at the Marina Bay area, as well as new residential developments island-wide. The Building and Construction Authority has projected that the industry's annual output will rise to between $14 and $17 billion over the next few years. This is an increase from an average of $12 billion over the past three years.

3.   To sustain the growth in the construction industry, an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 additional foreign workers will be required in the next two to three years. To support the manpower needs of the industry, my Ministry has, since April, increased the sectoral Dependency Ratio from 1:4 to 1:5. We have also held back the 5% reduction in the Man Year Entitlement (MYE) formula that was previously announced, and relaxed the MYE waiver requirement to apply to workers with at least 4 years of working experience, down from the current 6 years. These changes will allow the industry more flexibility in hiring foreign workers to ease its manpower pressure.

Construction Industry's WSH performance

4.   However, an increase in the number of workers also means greater responsibility for employers to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. I am pleased to note that the safety and health standards in the construction industry have improved steadily over the years. Compared to a high of 73 work-related fatalities in 1998, there were 24 deaths in 2006. Nevertheless, the construction industry still accounts for the highest number of fatalities each year. This underscores the need for the industry to do even more to improve its safety and health standards.

Implementing WSH 2015 for the Construction Industry

5.   To further improve the construction industry's safety performance, the WSH Construction Advisory Sub-Committee and the Ministry of Manpower have developed a blueprint to direct the implementation of WSH 2015 for the construction industry. It is aligned with the national battle plan WSH 2015, and guides the industry's efforts towards achieving better safety and health standards. The blueprint also outlines the role of all construction industry players in these efforts. The need for industry ownership is emphasised in the theme for this year's National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign, "SHINE@work" or "Safety and health involves everyone at work".

Building strong WSH capability

6.   Let me highlight some recent and upcoming WSH initiatives for the construction industry. One key area is capability development. The Workplace Safety and Health Advisory Committee (WSHAC), working with SCAL and MOM, has played an instrumental role in developing and actively promoting the use of risk management compendiums for various construction activities, such as scaffolding and plastering. Seven compendiums have been developed, and a further 13 are in progress. Such compendiums will be particularly useful for Small-and-Medium Enterprises or SMEs to understand and manage common WSH risks so that accidents can be prevented.

7.   To further develop capabilities among SMEs, the WSHAC, in collaboration with my Ministry, will be launching bizSAFE. This initiative provides a framework for companies to systemically develop their WSH capabilities and boost their business competitiveness. We will be working with bizSAFE partners to present a business case for their sub-contractors to participate in the scheme. I strongly urge all present to be part of bizSAFE.

Developing a performance-based framework

8.   Another important area is a performance-based regulatory framework. The WSH Act introduced last year was a significant first step in the enhancement of our legislative framework. Since then, we have been reviewing all the WSH subsidiary legislations to align them with the new Act. For the Construction Industry, two key regulations for Construction work and WSH Officers have been finalised, and will come into effect on 1 June this year.

9.   Following extensive industry consultation through the WSH Construction Advisory Sub-committee, many prescriptive elements under the two regulations have been removed. For example, the WSH (Construction) Regulations will no longer prescribe compulsory elements for a safety management system or SMS. Instead, companies will be guided by non-mandatory codes of practices and tailor their SMS based on the risk levels of their work. This will provide companies with greater flexibility to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. A SMS will also be required at all worksites. This, together with other changes such as imposing duties on Professional Engineers undertaking temporary works and requiring safety and health training for all supervisors, will strengthen the performance-based regime by ensuring that obvious WSH risks are mitigated.

10.   Similarly, the (WSH Officers) Regulations will no longer prescribe the functional roles of WSH officers, but articulate the expected outcomes instead. The distinction between a full-time or part-time WSH Officer will also be removed, allowing the industry to decide on the extent of appointment based on its needs. Again, codes of practices will guide the industry in compliance. I am happy to learn that the industry has supported these changes.

Integrating WSH into business

11.   Making a meaningful improvement in WSH standards requires efforts beyond just legislation. We will need to integrate WSH into business. I am heartened to know that the WSH Construction Advisory Sub-committee has taken the initiative to develop a Construction Safety Audit Scoring System, or CONSASS, to encourage such behaviour. CONSASS provides a common benchmark for auditors to evaluate the strengths and weakness of the company's WSH management system. This will allow companies to measure themselves and seek continuous improvement as well as enable their clients to recognise and reward strong WSH management systems. I am told that the WSH Construction Advisory Sub-committee will be reaching out to the industry to encourage participation in this scheme and will be announcing the details at a later date. I thank them for their efforts.

Building or creating new partnerships

12.   As we implement the various initiatives under the construction blueprint, it is vital that we build on and create stronger partnerships with all stakeholders in the industry to achieve success. As the lead construction industry association, SCAL can spearhead the involvement of the industry in WSH initiatives and drive improvements in WSH performance. This safety campaign is an example of a good initiative.

Conclusion

13.   My Ministry will continue to work closely with WSHAC and the industry to raise workplace safety and health standards. By working together to implement the initiatives under the construction blueprint, I am confident that we can achieve the goals set out in WSH 2015. We will, if we SHINE@work. On this note, I wish you a successful campaign.

14.   Thank You.