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Speech at The "Programme-Based Engagement 2007 Seminar - Building Safer Workplaces Together"

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower, HDB Hub Auditorium

Ms Kala Anandarajah, Chairperson, Workplace Safety and Health Engagement and Publicity Subcommittee;

Members of the Workplace Safety and Health Advisory Committee;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and gentlemen;

Good afternoon

Thank you for the opportunity to address you at this year's Programme-based Engagement Seminar, jointly organised by the Ministry of Manpower and the Workplace Safety and Health Advisory Committee (WSHAC).

Improved Safety Record, but Every Death Still Counts

2.   Last year, the workplace fatality rate was 3.1 per 100,000 workers. This is a marked improvement compared to the rate of 4 in 2005, and the 4.9 in 2004. Our goal, announced in 2005, to halve workplace fatality rate to 2.5, is now closer to realisation.

3.   The low-hanging fruits have been harvested. In order to attain our goal, we must therefore redouble our efforts to ensure workplace safety. It is also sobering to reflect that, notwithstanding the commendable improvements in our safety record, 62 individuals still lost their lives in the course of work. This means that on average, more than one person died each week at the workplace.

4.   MOM treats each death very seriously, and is committed to investigating each case thoroughly. Preliminary assessments of the majority of the 62 fatalities indicate that the employers are likely to be held partially liable for the deaths. While a price cannot be placed on the value of a life lost, it is also important to note that the cost to employers of each death is considerable. For example, the 62 cases will lead to potential insurance claims of more than $6.8 million. As a result of the 62 deaths, stop-work orders totalling 375 days were served.

Helping Industry to Learn from Mistakes

5.   MOM investigations into workplace fatalities also indicate that cost-effective preventive measures could have been put into place and would have helped make the workplace safer. Through its email-based OSH Alerts, MOM has also provided industry timely information on lessons learnt from each case, so that fatal mistakes made in one case are not repeated elsewhere.

6.   The Programme-Based Engagement initiative, or ProBE, is another process MOM has introduced to help industry learn from past mistakes. It involves a study of recent trends in fatal accidents. The study is carried out by MOM in partnership with industry players. This approach enables us to identify "hotspots" for targeted intervention. Under ProBE, systemic gaps or deficiencies would be identified, and addressed holistically. Solutions for plugging these gaps are then quickly disseminated to the industry for quick adoption. ProBE is ultimately backed by ground inspections by MOM, to ensure follow-up of its recommendations.

Achievements of ProBE

7.   ProBE was launched last year with four work hazards earmarked for intervention. These were work in scaffolding, metalworking, confined spaces, and work at heights. With the exception of Work at Heights which require more extensive engagement, the other three ProBEs have been completed. The results have been very encouraging. The number of fatalities associated with scaffolding, metalworking and confined spaces fell by 33%, from 15 in 2005 to 10 in 2006.

8.   I would like to thank industry players for their unstinting support for the ProBE initiative. Industry stakeholders have taken ownership of the process, and view ProBE as an opportunity to validate their practices, and improve overall safety & health standards. Some companies, such as the Singapore Refinery Company, even arranged for their in-house workplace safety events to coincide with the ProBE calendar, for greater impact. The process of engagement in scaffolding activities also led the industry to form the Access & Scaffold Industry Association (ASIA) to raise and promote safety standards in the sector. 

ProBE priorities in 2007

9.   For 2007, we will continue with the Work at Heights programme. From 2002 to 2005, fall from heights accounted for 35% of all fatal accidents and this has further increased to 39% of total fatalities in 2006. In addition, in view of the fact that work at heights is prevalent in many industry sectors, there is a need to extend the engagement effort to reach out to all the stakeholders involved. Besides this critical focus area, we hope to see a repeat of the encouraging results from the programmes in 2006 by launching ProBE intervention into three new work activities this year.

10.  The first is in the use of lifting equipment such as cranes, cherry pickers and lifting platforms. Last year, 11 deaths, or 18% of all fatalities, were associated with this activity. From MOM's inspections and investigations into these fatal cases, we observed that the industry's lifting practices were not well carried out. Most of these involved the use of the mobile crane in the construction, shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries. Unsafe practices include improper rigging of goods without effective safety catches and overloading of lifting equipment. MOM will work closely with the industry to improve its lifting practices.

11.   The second new area is in the operation of forklifts. This saw a three-fold rise in the number of fatalities, from 3 in 2005 to 9, which accounted for 15% of all fatalities, in 2006. MOM investigations revealed that the key contributors to forklift accidents include the operation of the machines by untrained staff and the lack of proper traffic management of humans and vehicles on site.

12.   Since the passing of the Workplace Safety & Health Act, we have set the reduction of workplace fatalities and injuries as the highest priority. With the encouraging progress made so far, we intend to devote more resources to reduce the incidence of occupational diseases. The top occupational disease over the years is Noise Induced Deafness which accounted for 81% of all occupational diseases in 2006. Hence, the third ProBE will focus on work in noisy environment, relating to the hazards of excessive noise levels at workplaces.

Conclusion

13.  In closing, let me commend you for your strong partnership with us, to improve workplace safety & health over the past two years. We can be justly proud of our achievements thus far. At the same time, more needs to be done and that can only be achieved with greater industry ownership by stakeholders such as yourself. Together, let us build safer and healthier workplaces.

Thank you.