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Speech at Opening Ceremony of The Construction Safety, Health and Security Campaign 2010

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Manpower , Health), SCAL House

Mr Andrew Khng, President, Singapore Contractors Association Limited

Mr Eugene Yong, Deputy Chairman, WSH Council Construction and Landscaping Committee

Friends and supporters from the construction industry

Good morning.

1.    I am pleased to join you today at the 27th Annual Construction Campaign led by the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) and 12 other parties, including the Ministry of Manpower and the WSH Council. We should continue with such industry-led campaigns to raise awareness and efforts so as to improve our safety standards.

Construction performance a cause for concern

2.    For the construction sector, this is all the more pertinent. Last year, the sector saw 2,800 work injuries. This means 7 workers were getting injured at construction sites daily. While some have the opportunity to learn from their work incidents to prevent recurrence, others were not so lucky – with some 30 deaths at our worksites every year.

3.    The construction sector has in fact seen some improvements since 2005 when the fatality rate was hovering at about 10 per 100,000 employees. This fell to 6.9 in 2008. However, we saw an upward bound when the rate went up to 8.1 2009. This is a cause for concern, especially when there appears to be a similar trend in the first 6 months of this year.

4.    To date, in 2010, we have seen 15 construction fatalities -- about half of last year's total of 31. If this trend continues, we are likely to have the same number of workers succumbing to work incidents in the sector this year as compared to last year. What is even more troubling is that 6 of these 15 fatalities happened in May this year – all within just one month. This spate of construction-related deaths arose from various types of work. They include complex building projects, demolition works and even simple maintenance tasks like changing ceiling lights in an existing building.

5.    These current figures and facts stress the need for us to do more to sustain our earlier improvements and to extend our reach to beyond the "typical heavy construction work". Construction stakeholders must also understand that sustaining WSH improvements will have a great impact on the sector's productivity. In 2009, construction worksites lost almost 260,000 man-days due to work related safety and health incidents, a 20% increase from the 216,000 man-days lost in 2008. The time lost could have allowed projects to be completed earlier, translating into higher productivity and profitability, and more importantly, save lives and limbs.

6.    So what can we effectively do? I believe that, to raise both the safety and health standards as well as productivity at the construction worksites, both immediate and long-term measures are necessary.

10-year construction sectoral plan spells out immediate and long-term measures

7.    Earlier this year, the WSH Council rolled out a sectoral strategy to bring about quantum WSH improvements in the Construction value chain. "Implementing WSH2018 for the Construction Sector" outlines comprehensive plans for collective short term and long term efforts for the construction sector. It also details initiatives to help the sector develop a progressive and pervasive WSH culture and to ensure sustainable continuous improvement in WSH. Mr Eugene Yong will share more details on the plan in today's keynote address. Together with the launch of the sectoral plan, several initiatives have been rolled out in the construction sector to arrest the increase in work injuries and fatalities. Let me highlight a few of them.

Intervention in key areas of concern

8.    One of these key hazards is work at height. Falls from height continues to be the top killer not only in worksites, but across all industries. This year, about half or 7 of the 15 fatalities in the construction sector resulted from falls. Since the setting up of WSH Council's two national taskforces last year, various measures have been put in place. As an immediate response, my Ministry enhanced our enforcement efforts pertaining to work safely at height. We extended our reach to smaller construction sites. Between April to July, we are conducting close to 2,000 inspections. Arising from these inspections, we took immediate action to stop work in unsafe worksites or issue stiff penalties. Alongside these enforcement visits by MOM, the Work at Height Taskforce also implemented a new engagement measure called the Safety Compliance Assistance Visits to help smaller worksites improve their safety management. In addition, the Council and Taskforce have also extended the reach to beyond typical construction work. Just yesterday, a Council forum was organised to engage facility management related companies.

9.    Another issue - crane safety. We see many cranes in use in Singapore's worksites, especially in recent years during the sector’s boom. Since 2007, we have seen an increasing trend of crane related fatalities in the construction sector. The sector accounts for 33% of crane related fatalities in 2007. This went up to 60% in 2008 and 75% in 2009. So far this year, we have seen eight incidents involving cranes, many from the construction sector. One resulted in a fatality, another in an injury, and the other six, fortunately, did not injure any workers. We all know that crane incidents can lead to devastating outcomes, including damage to public property and possible harm to members of the public. To arrest this situation, we have taken some measures recently to enhance the safe use of cranes.

10.    First, we addressed the issue of proper erection, maintenance, jacking and dismantling of cranes as these activities injured workers in two of the eight crane incidents this year. In one of the incidents, a worker was killed and three others injured when the top of the tower crane collapsed during the jacking process1. My Ministry's preliminary investigations showed that the securing of the jacking cage was not properly managed during this process, resulting in the toppling of the crane. The Approved Crane Contractor involved in the work has since been suspended pending further investigations.

11.    We have now tightened the requirements for Approved Crane Contractors. From January next year, these crane contractors will be required to attain at least bizSAFE Level 3 before they can renew their certification. By attaining bizSAFE level 3, risk management capability is obtained. Having risk management capability is important as it is the key to preventing incidents. I am heartened to note that half of the 120 Approved Crane Contractors are already at bizSAFE Level 3. Another 20 of these crane contractors have attended a special bizSAFE session organized by the WSH Council recently. They are well on the way to attaining bizSAFE Level 3. I urge the remaining crane contractors to immediately kick start their bizSAFE process so that they can better manage the safety of their workers. My Ministry is also working with the Council and crane stakeholders to develop a course for the crane erectors working for these contractors. We expect to roll out the course by early next year. With the availability of the course, the crane contractors will be required to have all their workers suitably trained before they can be involved in crane related works.

12.    Our second initiative aims to raise competencies amongst the personnel involved in operating the crane. Crane operators must possess the necessary knowledge of the best way to carry out the lifting process safely as they are in control of the crane. Earlier, the Crane Safety Taskforce had introduced a Crane Safety Awareness Workshop for crane operators and the first workshop was recently conducted. From next year, all crane operators will have to attend the workshop before they can renew their licences. More of such workshops will be conducted for all 6,000 crane operators. I am pleased to be here today to witness the graduation of this first batch of 70 crane operators which will take place later. One of them is 33-year-old crane operator Mr Mohamed Hanifa Bin Abdul Salam who found the workshop useful to help him refresh his knowledge on risk management and safety in lifting works. Having been a crane operator for more than 10 years, the Singaporean lived by the mantra "Safety should not be taken lightly, no matter how small the job" and believes that the key to safety is co-operation across all levels in the worksite from management to workers. In addition, we are reviewing the existing crane operator course. A key new enhancement is the use of new technology to train the operators such as through the use of crane simulators.

13.    For the other members of the lifting team, a new course for lifting supervisors, who also play a key role to guide the lifting process, will be rolled out by August 2010. The WSH Council will soon announce details for employers to start sending their supervisors for the course.

Risk Management implementation and Contractor Management

14.    Besides focusing on the highlighted key areas of concern, we are also driving the implementation of risk management and better contractor management as a longer term measure. The nature of the construction sector is such that a multitude of sub-contractors are involved in a single project. These smaller sub-contractors may not have the ability to effectively manage the various risks connected to their work though risk management is important and the cornerstone in preventing incidents. To close this gap, developers as well as main contractors can stipulate bizSAFE level 3 as a contractual requirement.

15.    In this regard, I am pleased to announce that 70 main contractors, including United Engineers and Woh Hup, have included bizSAFE level 3 as a requirement in their contractual terms for subcontractors. This works out to more than a thousand construction subcontractors who will be required to implement their risk management plans, should they want to continue working with these big contractors. However, more needs to be done to meet the target of having 100% implementation of risk management in the construction sector. I urge more main contractors to also consider bizSAFE Level 3 as a contractual requirement so that we can raise the overall standards of the sector.

Design for Safety Initiatives

16.    The last initiative I would like to highlight is a longer-term measure but it will make the most difference if it is well implemented. The Design for Safety programme will receive much attention in our plans ahead. Over the years, we have seen poor design contributing to various work incidents. Designing out the risks at the construction, maintenance as well as demolition stages can help to mitigate or even eliminate the risks from the onset. Since the Design for Safety programme was announced in end 2008, it has been piloted at more than 8 projects. To equip the industry with relevant competencies to effectively implement the Design for Safety, the WSH Council has developed a course for the Project Safety and Health Coordinator. Various persons, like the architects and the engineers, are expected to attend.

17.    The Council will roll out the course next month. I encourage both developers and main contractors to send relevant personnel to take up the course so that you can also implement Design for Safety for your future projects. Those who adopt this initiative can also look forward to the Design for Safety mark which is being developed. This mark will recognise projects that have effectively implemented the design for safety tenets. With this mark, interested property buyers will know that WSH matters were given sufficient emphasis in the design stage. With this awareness, they can have peace of mind as safety considerations affecting workers and their property have been looked into.


18.    In closing, as my Ministry extends the WSH Act to cover all workplaces by Sept 2011, workplace safety and health will become a core part of how any business is run. For the construction sector, WSH is core to your business and will be expected by your clients, the buyers of the buildings you construct and increasingly, an interested public who will demand for better safety standards at the workplaces. I urge all stakeholders in the construction sector to look at WSH not as a cost but as an investment in ensuring smooth execution of building projects, and building a reputation for being a credible and safe contractor. With this, I wish you an insightful session ahead and ask that you join me to ensure safety in all our workplaces. Thank you.

1 This involves raising the height of a crane by adding in additional masts to facilitate further lifting work in the project.