Speech at Programme-Based Engagement (Lifting Equipment) Seminar
Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Toa Payoh HDB Hub Auditorium
Members of the Workplace Safety and Health Advisory Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon. I am heartened to see such a good turnout at today's seminar. This shows that many industry players are concerned about workplace safety and health, and want to take steps to better manage it.
More accidents involving lifting equipment
2. Last year, MOM and the WSH Advisory Committee started Programme-based Engagement, or ProBE, which combines industry education with targeted enforcement to tackle areas that contribute most to work-related fatalities and injuries. In March this year, I announced the priority areas for ProBE in 2007. One of these areas, which today's seminar addresses, is the use of lifting equipment such as cranes and cherry pickers.
3. Accidents that involved the use of lifting equipment killed 12 workers in 2006. This accounted for 20% of total workplace fatalities in 2006, up from 7% in 2005. In terms of injuries, 342 workers were hurt in accidents involving lifting equipment in 2006, up three times from 2005. Lifting equipment continues to be an area of concern in the first half of 2007. 7 workers were killed in such accidents, accounting for 28% of total workplace fatalities in this period.
Learning from past accidents
4. To arrest the problem, it is critical that we learn from the lessons of past accidents so that we do not repeat our mistakes. Let me share with you some of the key problems we have identified using two real case studies.
5. In the first case, a worker was crushed by a load that dislodged from the lifting gear. MOM's investigations unearthed some disturbing facts. First, the absence of trained personnel at the workplace. There was no appointed rigger and signalman for the operation, nor a trained lifting supervisor present to supervise the work. Second, unsafe rigging. A faulty hook was used and it had no safety latch. Without a latch, loads can dislodge easily and crush any worker nearby, which was what happened in this case.
6. Another fatality occurred when a worker was struck on the head by a rebar cage being lifted by a crane. This case also involved unsafe rigging with poor load distribution. But what was even more unfortunate was the fact that the victim was not even involved in the lifting operation. Poor control of the workplace and weak management of human traffic resulted in his death. The lifting area should have been barricaded to eliminate risks to workers like him.
7. Some might have attributed these unfortunate accidents to "bad luck". I disagree with this. These workplace accidents and deaths could have been avoided if there was proper preparation and management for both lifting operations. To conduct a safe lifting operation, you must never forgo any of these essential measures – planning, training, proper supervision, safe rigging and good control of the movement of load in the workplace. These measures should be put in place after conducting a proper risk assessment. With these measures, it is possible for us to prevent accidents involving the use of lifting equipment and loss of lives.
Support for SMEs
8. Our analysis also revealed that small and medium enterprises, or SMEs accounted for more than half of the accidents involving lifting equipment. To help SMEs build risk management capabilities, MOM had launched a $5 million Risk Management Assistance Fund for SMEs in April last year. The fund was meant to last for three years, and aimed to kick start risk management in smaller companies that were not familiar with this concept. Response from the industry has been overwhelming. In less than one and a half years, the $5 million fund has been fully committed to help some 800 SMEs. To allow more SMEs to benefit from the scheme and implement risk management successfully, the WSH Advisory Committee has recommended that the fund be topped up. The Committee has also suggested revising the features of the fund to benefit even more SMEs. In particular, the Committee recommends that the maximum co-funding per company be capped at $3,500, instead of the current $7,500. This is because initiating risk management is not as costly as it may seem. As an illustration, an enterprising group of about 50 SMEs has arranged for large group training to achieve economies of scale. Each only required a co-funding of $3,300.
9. The Ministry has accepted both recommendations. I am pleased to announce that the Government will top up another $2 million per year to the RMAF, for the next 4 years. To help SMEs save on their portion of the co-funding, the RMAF agents will work with them to arrange for more cost-effective large group training. Based on the new funding cap, 2,300 SMEs are expected to benefit from the Fund over the next 4 years. This is almost three times the number of SMEs that have benefited from the first tranche.
10. With the continued efforts, industry engagement and support given, I am confident that we can prevent accidents together, be it in lifting equipment or any other work processes. I wish you an enriching session ahead and urge you to continue striving for better safety and health standards. Thank you.