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Speech at Workplace Safety and Health Awards 2010

Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Manpower, Shangri-La Hotel Island Ballroom

Mr Lee Tzu Yang, Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council

Members of the WSH Council and Committees

Industry leaders and partners

WSH Award winners

Ladies and Gentleman

  1. I am pleased to join you at this year’s Workplace Safety and Health Awards.

  2. It is encouraging to note that the number of applications for this year’s awards has increased by 25% - with a total of 361 applications submitted. Such a trend bodes well for our national drive to improve safety standards. I hope the Awards will further motivate the award winners to do even better and inspire others to learn from them.

    WSH Performance in First Half of 2010
  3. The good news is that the first half of this year saw fewer lives lost at our workplaces. As of end June, there were 25 work fatalities, a 30% reduction from the 36 fatalities in the same period last year. The bad news is that there were still 25 lives lost. But, workplace safety and health is not just about numbers. Behind each death at our workplace is a heart wrenching story for the loved ones of the deceased worker. We must persist in our efforts to prevent accidents at our workplaces. These efforts will also bring Singapore towards our WSH 2018 vision of attaining a safety performance comparable to nations with the best safety records in the world.
  4. As we look closer at the recent work fatalities, there were important takeaway lessons on how these accidents could have been prevented. For example, in a shipyard incident in May, a worker was covering a floor opening with timber planks when he lost his balance and fell through the opening. In May, two cases involving addition and alteration works saw two fatalities. One involved a worker who fell through the false ceiling while installing air-con ducting. Another involved an electrician who was conducting some checks on wires. He was electrocuted and died on the spot. Another incident showed that the lack of proper maintenance can also be a danger to workers. A food manufacturing factory, a worker was killed when a corroded window panel fell and hit her. This needless death could have been avoided if the window was properly maintained.
  5. From these cases, it is clear that, while we focus on important higher risk areas such as work-at-heights and crane operations, we must also look at all other types of work. Today, I will highlight three key thrusts which my Ministry and the WSH Council will focus on.

    Workforce and public engagement
  6. First, involve as many stakeholders as possible to help us achieve better WSH outcomes. For companies, your management and workers have an instrumental role to play in making the workplace safe. Workers must feel involved and know that they can contribute to improving safety and health standards at their workplaces. Many of the winning companies today have various employee engagement platforms and programmes. I encourage you to build further upon this. Empower your workers to be able to stop unsafe work and not fear repercussions. This will make them feel valued as it demonstrates the company’s commitment to their safety and health.
  7. Involving as many stakeholders as possible is also the key aim of this year’s National WSH Campaign. I am delighted to hear about the extensive reach of this year’s Campaign as highlighted by Chairman WSHC in his speech earlier. The 200,000 workers reached through the Campaign can help us to spread the WSH messages further. Should every one of these 200,000 workers speak to four more workers each, we would have brought the message to a million workers.

    Extension of WSH Act – reaching more workplaces and the public
  8. Such a network of outreach and communication is especially important as we promulgate the message of workplace safety and health to support the extension of the WSH Act to all workplaces by end 2011. We want to involve every single person at work and even members of the public who may be affected by the work that is being carried out around them. This will allow us to create a community that is keenly aware of WSH and can play their role to keep workplaces safe.
  9. As part of the public education efforts for the extension of the WSH Act, 50 road shows and many in-house activities have been conducted during this year’s national WSH campaign. In addition, my Ministry worked with the Council and our tripartite partners to engage some 2,000 employers and union leaders earlier this month. Their inputs will aid us as we extend the WSH Act.
  10. The WSH Council also recently rolled out a series of educational advertisements at 150 bus stops island-wide. The advertisements revolve around the slogan, "Don’t ignore everyday risks at work". It highlights common work hazards that employees should be mindful of. One such hazard is "slips, trips and falls" at work. This hazard has led to about 1,000 work injuries every year and even death in some serious cases. The ads1 remind employees that they can play a part in saving lives.
  11. Employers must also play their roles. To help employers implement the right safety measures, the WSH Council has published a guide to WSH hazards and will mail this out to 140,000 employers. Employers can also participate in the consultation sessions and awareness forums that are in the pipeline.

    Positive impact of WSH on business outcomes and productivity
  12. The second key thrust we will focus on is to make WSH an integral part of businesses. Tonight's Award winners will share how investing in WSH has yielded various positive business outcomes and increased business opportunities. For example, many property developers will consider the safety performance of their contractors for their projects. Four-time winner, City Development Limited (CDL), indicates safety performance as a criteria when selecting their contractors. Contractors who manage projects well and attain tonight’s WSH Awards are eligible to receive a monetary reward from CDL.
  13. It is not just the main contractors which get the business advantage with better safety performance. Even subcontractors will feel the impact. The WSH Council has managed to get 70 main contractors to specify bizSAFE Level 3 in their contracts. This brings on board close to 1,000 sub-contractors which will have to acquire risk management capability before they can win contracts.
  14. Safety also plays a key role in our current national push for higher productivity. Businesses need to operate more safely to reduce and eliminate productivity lost from workplace incidents. The 157 Award winners who achieved strong WSH performance in 2009 had achieved either zero reportable work incidents in the whole year or at least a million man-hours without a reportable work incident. This is a great feat especially for companies that are large in scale and involved in complex operations. These companies are the forerunners which have successfully integrated safety with productivity. Today, I would like to highlight and share with you some.
  15. The first is Gammon Construction Pte Ltd which won the ‘WSH Practices -Outstanding Achievement and Innovation Award’ for its Wet Excavation Method. Conventional deep and wider excavation works in a soft ground condition is a highly hazardous activity. Workers carrying out such work are exposed to hazards including falls from height, being hit by falling objects and the possibility of the trench collapsing. Recognising these hazards, Gammon Construction Pte Ltd came up with an innovative approach to support the deep excavation and its retaining walls. This method dramatically reduces the exposure of workers to excavation-work related risks.
  16. Such a novel WSH solution has also enabled Gammon Construction to derive tremendous benefits in terms of safe and timely completion, environment sustainability and costs. With this, required man-hours were reduced by 77% - from more than 38,000 man-hours to just about 9,000 man-hours. This translates to an estimated cost savings of almost $250,000.
  17. Another example is PPL Shipyard's award-winning approach to pipe installation. Typically, shipyards need to include both manual handling and hot works in this process. It is a major cause of hand and finger injuries. To address these hazards, the company invented a device called the "Pipe Transporter". It removes the need for extensive use of manual handling and eliminates the need for hot works. The new method reduced risks of hand and finger injuries and eliminated fire and explosion hazards associated with hot works. The project saw an 80% reduction in costs and man-hours.
  18. These companies clearly illustrate that the integration of WSH into business considerations has a positive impact on productivity and business outcomes. I urge more companies to learn from the experiences of these award winners to develop solutions that will enable you to work safer, more productively and more profitably.

    Industry ownership and effective intervention
  19. The third key thrust of strengthening industry ownership and developing effective intervention measures underscores all our efforts. My Ministry has been focusing on enhancing ownership since the new WSH framework was set in motion back in 2005. It was a key reason for the establishment of the WSH Council in 2008 to lead industry efforts and guide capability building projects.
  20. Many European nations, which boast the best safety outcomes in the world, have stated that the key to better safety is strong industry ownership. We too must press on with our efforts to bring more industry players on board our WSH journey.
  21. I mentioned earlier about spotting and stopping unsafe work. With strong industry ownership, we should encourage the adoption of effective intervention measures on the ground. We have a promising start with the Marine Industry Safety Engagement Team (MindSET) programme and the Safety & Health Active Review (SHARe) programme in the Marina Bay construction area. These two initiatives allowed the industry to check their own safety practices and propose key improvements to one another. By sharing their best practices to address safety issues, these companies can build stronger capabilities in the long run. For example, in MindSET, six large shipyards have already conducted cross-shipyard visits to review key issues and concerns such as work at height and lifting works. A sharing session within the industry, led by the Association for Singapore Marine Industries, will be conducted soon.
  22. While this is a good start, we have room for improvement. We are aiming to introduce similar initiatives in other sectors soon. I strongly encourage other industries and companies to also take part in these efforts.

    Updates on WSH 2018 Fund
  23. To support the various measures that I have highlighted, my Ministry has earmarked about $12 million to WSH capability building and culture building efforts. Companies will be able to apply for these funds to help them in capability building initiatives such as training programmes as well as the development of WSH culture such as employee engagement programmes within their organisations. The funds will be administered by the WSH Council and more details will be announced over the next few months.

  24. Our journey towards achieving world class WSH excellence comes with challenges and obstacles. But I am confident that, with your continued commitment and support, we are in good stead to achieving our long term goal of bringing our workplace fatality rate to below 1.8 per 100,000 workers by 2018. On this note, I want to offer my heartiest congratulations to all the 2010 WSH Award winners and I wish you greater success in the years ahead. Thank you.

1 Please refer to Annex A for the advertisements