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Speech at SIM University’s Safety Symposium 2010

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, NUS Shaw Foundation Alumni House

Professor Cheong Hee Hiat, President, SIM University


Professor Tsui Kai Chong, Provost, SIM University

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

First, allow me to thank SIM University for giving me this opportunity to address you at this Safety Symposium that focuses on ‘Human factors in safety’.  This symposium is a worthy effort as addressing the ‘human’ element in safety is one of the key elements to enhance stakeholder ownership for better WSH outcomes. 

The role of ‘human factors’ in managing WSH
2.   In our national pursuit of WSH excellence, our journey has reached the crossroads.  We know that it is no longer enough to just put in place a typical system or process.  Instead, we must innovate and see how we can better involve each and every stakeholder in the WSH journey.  ‘Human factors’ provides a good perspective to look at safety-related issues.  Understanding ‘human factors’ can help us to better manage WSH.  Let me elaborate.

3.   All jobs and tasks are performed by humans, even with automation and the help of machines.  We would, therefore, benefit if we can understand how ‘humans’ think and make decisions.  With this understanding of people behaviour, we will better understand why errors are made and how bad decisions and biases can lead to major accidents.  ‘Human factors’ also allow us to have a better understanding about people and how they interact with their equipment, their workplaces and environment.  It helps us to take a more holistic approach to the problem, so that we have a better understanding of why such safety lapses occur.  It also helps us to unravel the reasons why employees do not comply with the safety measures that are in place despite knowing that they may put themselves at risk.  If we understand all these, we can, hopefully, prevent them from happening.

4.   Let me highlight the impact of ‘human factors’ using an example of a crane collapse in April 2006.  In this incident, a crawler crane was lifting a 182 tonne load from the ground to place in an oil rig under construction in a shipyard.  While doing so, the crane collapsed, killing 3 workers and injuring 3 others. Investigations showed that a particular part of the crane had failed, leading to its collapse.  The equipment failure, however, was not the sole factor involved.  There were several areas where ‘human factors’ play a significant role.  First, it was found that the company did not follow the manufacturer’s instructions to check if the crane was level and stable.  A decision was made to go with an unreliable method instead of a more proven and recommended one.  Second, the crane operator faced difficulty when slewing the crane.  But, instead of stopping to check, he continued to operate the crane.  Third, most of the workers killed and injured were not involved in the lifting operation but somehow came within the operating radius of the crane.  Even though the crane’s horn and the riggers’ whistles were blown to signal workers to steer clear from the lifting area, it was apparently not enough as workers were freely moving around the affected area. 

5.   This example tells us that we need to consider how individuals behave when we design systems and processes.  We know that employees may choose to take an easier way out.  Therefore, we must make the system iron-clad such that checks and balances are in place to prevent this from happening.  An individual such as the crane operator may disregard warning signs if he was not previously well briefed and given the authority to stop work if he felt that something was not right.  Workers such as those killed or injured need clearer guidance on what they can or cannot do.  The warning signals being given was clearly insufficient and the cordoning of areas completely off workers’ limits may be the way to go. 

6.   Besides systems and processes, we must also look at how we can ingrain a safety culture in the mindset of the workers so that they can take greater ownership of their own and their co-workers’ safety.  This is another part in the ‘human factors’ perspective.  And to help us develop better systems and the WSH culture in our workplaces, the WSH professionals play a critical role as they can help to influence and effect human behaviour changes on the ground.

The role of WSH Professionals to manage WSH
7.   MOM understands the crucial role played by WSH Professionals, especially that of the WSH Officers and the WSH Auditors.  On the WSH Officers, we have clearly articulated their duties in the WSH Officers Regulations that took effect on 1 August 2007.  WSH Officers must review WSH risks, advice management on WSH concerns, recommend and put in place measures to manage WSH risks as well as improve work processes to align to changing conditions and workers’ behaviour.

8.   The other key group is the WSH Auditors.  They provide a third party unbiased opinion on a company’s WSH system.  In their capacity as an auditor, they can also help companies look at the better WSH practices available in the market and make significant recommendations on systemic improvements.  With this critical role, WSH Auditors clearly need to play their part well and meaningfully.  Therefore, to help WSH Auditors better fulfill their roles, MOM has introduced statutory duties and powers for the WSH Auditor under a new WSH (Safety & Health Management System and Auditing) Regulations1.  This will take effect on 1 March.  Under the new Regulations, WSH Auditors will be required to advice audited companies to take immediate action to remedy any unsafe condition or unsafe work practice.  They must also report such lapses to the Commissioner for WSH.  WSH Auditors are also now vested with powers to investigate any accident, dangerous occurrence or occupational disease that occurred within the workplace that they audited.

Helping WSH Professionals to play their part
9.   With their enhanced roles, these WSH Professionals need to be better equipped to manage the challenges.  And this is where the WSH Professional Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) Framework comes in.  The framework, which was launched by the WSH Council and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency in April 2008, provides structured training to help professionals build their capabilities and expertise.  To date, 1,300 people have since undergone the professional training at the different levels - 230 WSH Auditors, 770 WSH Officers and 300 WSH co-ordinators.

10.   Amongst these new professionals is Mr Mohammad Farid Bin Jaafar who has taken on a safety officer job with Keppel Shipyard last year.  A mid-career entrant, 34-year-old Farid was formerly a technician in the manufacturing sector.  After completing the WSH Officer course under the framework, he is now well versed in WSH issues and has found his calling in the WSH profession.  Another professional joining the midst is 41-year-old Susan Teo.  This outgoing lady is a new addition to a relatively male-dominated industry.  She has completed the WSH Auditor course late last year and now works as an EHS Consultant with a local safety consultancy firm.  I hope that we will see even more WSH professionals coming on board and playing their roles in ensuring safer and healthier workplaces.

11.   For existing WSH Professionals keen to upgrade or for anyone considering a WSH career, I understand that SIM University will also be offering a 3-year programme leading to a Bachelor in Science (BSc.) in Human Factors in Safety.  This will certainly be a useful course for those interested in advancing further in the WSH profession.

12.   Today’s Symposium topic on ‘Human factors’ will pave our way forward in the WSH journey and support our vision for a strong and progressive WSH culture in all our workplaces.  I am encouraged by the good response for today’s session.  It is my hope that all of you will take back important key learnings and effect ‘human factor’ changes back at your workplaces.  I look forward to your contributions for safer and healthier workplaces.  Thank you.


WSH (Safety & Health Management System and Auditing) Regulations

The WSH (SMS and Auditing) Regulations will take effect on 1 March 2010.  With the new regulations, audit of safety and health management systems is strengthened to enhance effective implementation of such systems. The new regulations include enhancements such as prescribing statutory duties and powers for the WSH Auditor and expanding the scope of audits to not only audit in SHMS, but also check the risk assessments in place, any work processes or the workplace itself.

WSH Auditors now will have duties specified upon their appointment at any workplace that requires them to audit the safety and health management system of the workplace at a frequency as specified in the Third Schedule of the regulations.  Their duties include the following:

  • Audit the workplace in a manner determined by the Commissioner for WSH
  • Submit an audit report to the occupier upon completion of audit
  • Advise the occupier to take immediate action to remedy any unsafe condition or unsafe work practice
  • Report to the Commissioner for WSH unsafe condition or unsafe work practice
  • Exercise all due diligence when performing his function in relation to carrying out the audit of a workplace
  • Given powers to investigate any accident, dangerous occurrence or occupational disease that occurred within the workplace they audited.

Please refer to our
website for details.

1Please refer to Annex for a fact sheet on the new WSH (Safety & Health Management System and Auditing) Regulations.