Skip to main content

Closing Speech by Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education at the Asia Pacific OH + EHS Conference & Exhibition 2011, 13 October 2011, 4.30pm, Raffles City Convention Centre

Distinguished speakers, delegates and guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

  1. A very good evening to all of you. I am delighted to join you at this occasion, and wish to express my congratulations to the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA)1 for successfully organising this event, together with the support from both overseas and local counterparts, and relevant organisations.
  2. This Conference has brought together a wealth of knowledge via the international and local invited speakers, and highly-qualified education and training providers who participated in the exhibition. Over the course of the day, mid to senior level occupational hygienists have learned more about the latest in the fields of industrial, occupational and environmental health, hygiene and safety.
  3. More than 220 of you have come from across the Asia Pacific region to attend this inaugural conference, a reflection of the keen interest and concern that our regional professionals have for the environment, health and safety of workers. This is especially critical in view of the rapid industrialisation and growth in many Asian countries in the last few decades. While this growth has raised the standard of living and job prospects, it has also presented new workplace safety and health risks to the workers.

    Growing emphasis on workplace health
  4. Workplace safety is more commonly discussed because of its serious immediate implications on lives and limbs. Less discussed are issues related to workplace health, occupational diseases or work-related illnesses. However, in most developed nations, workplace health problems far outstrip workplace safety issues. In a study conducted by the Health and Safety Executive in Britain, work-related illnesses cost employers up to an equivalent of S$4.2 billion a year, compared to about S$2.5 billion for work-related injuries2.
  5. Unfortunately, most occupational diseases are insidious and only manifest themselves after a prolonged period of exposure to health hazards. In addition, some of these conditions are curable at the onset but become irreversible later if left untreated. Hence, it is critical that awareness of work-related diseases or conditions is heightened and that regular monitoring and surveillance is done to ensure early detection so that appropriate measures can be taken to help the workers affected.
  6. In Singapore, we see about 500 occupational diseases reported in a year3. The most common is noise induced deafness which accounts for more than 80% of cases. Due to a general lack of awareness about occupational diseases and the long latency period of many such conditions, there could be a certain degree of under-reporting. Similar to the experience in other developed nations, as Singapore's workforce demographics evolve, we believe that workplace health will be an area where we will need to put more emphasis in.

    Need for Building Capability in Workplace Health in Singapore
  7. As highlighted by the last speaker, my colleague Dr Lee Hock Siang from the Ministry of Manpower, we have developed a national workplace health strategy to improve workplace health in Singapore4. It outlines the broad approaches and initiatives to address workplace health issues in Singapore, both for existing as well as emerging hazards.
  8. Controlling these hazards will require our occupational safety and health professionals, such as occupational hygiene professionals, to be better equipped to perform their roles. As workplace health hazards are often complex and difficult to quantify, occupational health professionals must be specially trained to recognise, evaluate and control these hazards. Growing the capabilities of our professionals is, therefore, key to helping us to better address these workplace health hazards.
  9. Currently, we have over 7,500 competent persons5 specifically trained in noise monitoring, air sampling, chemical management and assessment of confined space hazards. However, they tend to be focused on specific issues only and have not been looking at the broader scope of managing workplace health issues across the board. In addition, while we have some 2,200 registered WSH officers responsible for managing both workplace safety and health, they have a tendency to be more focused on safety and usually lack the skills and experience to manage workplace health issues. It is clear that we need to train existing WSH practitioners to address both workplace safety and health concerns. We will also require more WSH professionals that are able to address issues across more sectors in view of the recent extension of the WSH Act to all workplaces.

    Introducing the Occupational Hygiene Professional WSQ Framework
  10. In this regard, my Ministry has already been working to raise the capabilities of WSH professionals. That is why the WSH Council and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency developed the WSH Professionals Workforce Skills Qualifications (or WSQ) Framework in 2008 to provide skills upgrading and career progression for WSH Professionals. This is a competency-based adult training framework which is aligned to workplace safety and health legislation, local industry needs and the training landscape. To date, more than 5,500 individuals have completed the training.
  11. To address workplace health issues, we require a multidisciplinary and more comprehensive approach than what is currently available. Hence, to complement the existing WSH Professionals WSQ Framework, I am delighted to announce that we are developing an Occupational Hygiene Professionals Singapore WSQ Framework6, which focuses on workplace health hazards. In every aspect of managing workplace safety and health, capabilities is critical and with the right knowledge, we can then inculcate industry ownership over WSH issues and by doing so, create workplaces that believe in and are committed to safety and health. The new framework will groom a new group of professionals for the job. We hope that this framework will provide training to 5,000 Occupational Hygiene Officers by 2018 to assist employers in managing workplace health risks.
  12. One qualification under the WSQ framework is the Specialist Diploma in Occupational Hygiene. This specialist diploma is benchmarked against similar courses run by international organisations. We aim for graduates with this local WSQ qualification to also gain international recognition as this will further enhance the occupation's professionalism and encourage more people into the profession.
  13. Just last month, we launched the pilot run of the Specialist Diploma in Occupational Hygiene course at the Singapore Polytechnic. It attracted an overwhelming response with over 70 applicants vying for 20 training places. We envisage that the first batch of Occupational Hygiene Officers will graduate by the middle of 2012.

  14. In conclusion, workplace health is a growing area of importance that we cannot ignore. If we manage both workplace safety and health well, it will contribute significantly to building a strong safety culture, as well as safe and healthy workplaces for all our workers. I hope that many of you present today will consider the new OH WSQ framework as an opportunity for you to grow your expertise. I urge you to make the best use of the knowledge acquired through this conference and the pre-conference courses, and continue to play a more active role to improve and strengthen the level of workers' health protection in your respective countries, organisations or companies. For our foreign participants, I hope you take with you not only the knowledge you acquired from this conference, but also bring home pleasant memories of your stay in Singapore. Thank you.

    1 Please refer to Annex A for more information on AIHA.
    3 Please see the latest WSH Statistics report at this link.
    5 These professionals are either registered with the Ministry of Manpower or with accredited professional bodies.
    6 Please see Annex B for a fact sheet on the framework.