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Speech at NUS CIB W099 International Conference on “Modelling and Building Health and Safety”

Mr Hawazi Daipi , Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower, Sands Expo & Convention Centre, Marina Bay Sands

Professor Alistair Gibb, CIB W099 Coordinator,
Professor Heng Chye Kiang, Dean of School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore,
Associate Professor Tham Kwok Wai, Head of Department of Building of NUS
Delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

  1. A very good morning to all of you. For our overseas speakers and delegates, a warm welcome to Singapore. Singapore is privileged to host this year’s CIB W099 International Conference on “Modelling and Building Health and Safety”, organised by the National University of Singapore.

    Various events highlight vibrancy of WSH scene
  2. Today’s event is one of the 8 satellite events for this year’s Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Conference, which will take place 2 days later. We have coined this the “Singapore WSH Conference Week” and collaborated with various organisations to create a vibrant and wide-ranging agenda for WSH professionals, business leaders and researchers in Singapore and the region. My thanks to NUS for organising this event.
  3. This is the first time the CIB W099 is held in Singapore. The event will help participants understand how to improve safety in the construction sector through education and research. To ensure safety and health in our worksites, we need academics and researchers to work closely with industry stakeholders to develop innovative and practical WSH solutions. This collaboration is even more vital in light of the current productivity drive in Singapore. Just like we are rethinking work processes to make them more efficient, we should also rethink WSH practices that are deeply entrenched in the construction sector, to enhance workplace safety and health performance.

    Construction’s WSH Performance this year
  4. The safety and health performance of the construction sector has always been a focus area for MOM. Compared to the first half of 2011, there was a drop in both the number of fatalities and fatality rate as at June this year .
  5. However, recent accidents are a cause for concern. In July and August, there was a spate of 6 serious accidents which resulted in 7 fatalities. This includes the collapse of formwork at the Bugis Downtown Line station construction site, which caused 2 fatalities, as well as the partial collapse of the old UIC building carpark which was being demolished. The fact that such accidents continue to occur indicates that there are still considerable gaps in safety management by multiple stakeholders.
  6. MOM has responded to this worrying trend by stepping up enforcement checks on construction worksites . But, the reality is that our officers cannot be around 24 hours a day. We need industry players and stakeholders to work with us to achieve sustainable improvements in construction safety. Let me highlight three areas that I believe we need to focus our energies on: educating the people; improving the work process and encouraging ownership.

    Educating the people
  7. Today’s conference puts the spotlight on education. We have heard this said many times - that education is the key for us to change mindsets, build a better future and create long-lasting changes. We need to focus on educating the people because they are the ones who are making the difference when they start work and apply what they were taught in university. Therefore, we should remind ourselves that the process of inculcating the safety mindset should start from the beginning of the education process, and encourage safe behaviour as early as possible. Safety education must be imbued into the tertiary institution, which is a key formative period and the last stop for students before they join the workforce.
  8. In this regard, academics and educators play an important role in inculcating a safety mindset, as well as the professionalism expected in the sector. Specifically, educators must ensure that our future engineers, architects and project managers understand the need of safe design for structures and processes.
  9. The education of our people cannot stop after they have joined the profession. We also need to ensure that they continuously upgrade, understand the new technologies and safety considerations and bear these in mind in each and every one of the tasks they undertake. Take for example, an engineer who graduates from university to work as a site engineer, looking after a few selected processes at the worksite. After a few years, he performs well enough to be promoted to be a project manager. However, in order for him to perform well as a project manager, he has to undergo the Construction Safety Course for Project Managers, which will allow him to have a better understanding of the role that the Project Manager has to play, to manage the work site well and ensure safety at the work site.
  10. Education and continuous upgrading are not limited to engineers, architects and quantity surveyors, but also necessary for all other levels of the workforce in the construction sector. MOM, WSH Council and Building and Construction Authority (or BCA) are working together to continuously improve the training standards.

    Focusing on the process
  11. Another highlight in this conference is research and this is important if we want to improve work processes on construction sites. In today’s world, construction technologies evolve rapidly, and we should keep up to date on the latest developments, both in the way we plan the construction activity, as well as how we harness efficiencies from new technologies.
  12. One example is in the upstream construction planning process, where we should use Design for Safety principles to ensure designs that are safer to build and maintain. We need to teach our engineers, architects and project managers to look into “designing out” the risks right from the design phase and also plan mitigation measures for risks that could not be designed out.
  13. Such principles were used when the Dover MRT station was built. The Dover MRT station has full height glass panels which require regular maintenance. However, the glass panels are located above existing roads. The roads have to be closed for scaffolding to be set up so that workers could climb up to clean these glass panels. This, you can imagine, would be quite disruptive for traffic, not to mention dangerous for the workers. The designers of the station envisaged the difficulties involved with the cleaning work and instead, designed and built in a permanent working platform for the purpose of building maintenance. Maintenance workers can use this platform to clean the glass facade safely and without the need for road closure. This resulted in less inconvenience for road users, as well as reduced risks for the maintenance workers.
  14. Researchers should look into ways to integrate safety into new technology so as to enable our workers to work safely, yet achieving greater productivity. To achieve this, the industry can tap on available funding to assist them, such as the Construction Productivity Fund administered by the BCA.
  15. One recent invention by NUS is the Electronic Quick Bills of Quantities (or eQBQ) which uses Building Information Modelling (BIM) to calculate risks. This invention was developed to enhance construction productivity and efficiency by adopting all-rounded BIM solutions. BIM started as software to allow modelling of construction elements in three dimensions. Many have used BIM to improve productivity, to check for design conflicts that could affect functionality and may subsequently require onsite rectifications during construction and installation works .
  16. Enhancements now allow BIM to also be used for safety. It can help to envisage the construction process and safety elements such as handrails and anchor points for subsequent maintenance work. This can assist engineers, architects and project managers to better plan the construction process with safety in mind and look into means to mitigate work risks.
  17. Research solutions have a great potential to positively impact safety. Hence, the WSH Institute which was just set up will focus on workplace safety and health research and on how we can come up with better solutions to address some of the challenges we face in worksites. I would also urge the researchers sitting here in our midst, to conduct relevant studies and come up with proposals on how we can develop further the culture of safety and reduce accidents. We need more innovative ways to help us better plan, act and improve on our safety measures.

    Driving ownership
  18. The final piece of the puzzle to help us improve construction safety is ownership. As our industry matures, safety is no longer solely the responsibility of the authorities or other governing bodies. Increasingly, we need industry to take greater ownership and self-regulate in order to sustain WSH improvements.
  19. To promote industry ownership and self-regulation, the WSH Council set up a Marina Bay Sub-committee from 2008 to 2011, with members from developers and contractors in the Marina Bay area. Many positive outcomes were achieved. The initiative raised WSH awareness amongst the workforce in the area, and more importantly, the developers and contractors themselves initiated many sharing sessions and propagated good practices, and these contributed to collective WSH improvements. In addition, members of the sub-committee have also found the platform useful for resolving other non-WSH issues that required coordination amongst all the players in the area such as traffic issues.
  20. (Announcement) In continuation of our efforts to promote industry ownership and self-regulation, the WSH Council has facilitated the set-up of another such self-regulation group at the Jurong Gateway area. The Jurong Gateway Safety Group consists of the 5 developers with projects in the area, namely CapitaMalls Asia Limited, Jurong Health Service, the Land Transport Authority (LTA), Lend Lease and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), and is chaired by Mr Peter Wilding, Managing Director of Lend Lease for Asia.
  21. The contractors involved will soon be invited to the Group, and stakeholders of new developments will be brought onboard subsequently as more land parcels are awarded. I am confident that the Jurong Gateway Safety Group will bring about greater ownership among the stakeholders and better WSH outcomes, and I encourage the WSHC to facilitate the set-up of such groupings at other construction clusters, such as at Paya Lebar and Punggol area. The strong sense of ownership that is seen in some of the more enlightened players in our construction sector will serve as the impetus for us to advance further and help us achieve greater successes. I hope that we can make Singapore’s construction industry one of the safest in the world.

  22. In conclusion, I would like to thank NUS and CIB once again for organising this event and for helping to raise professional and safety standards in the construction industry through knowledge sharing.
  23. As a parting note, let us set ourselves a target. Last year, there were 22 fatalities in the construction industry, a marked reduction from 31 fatalities in year 2010. We have another 3 more months to go in this year and it is still not too late for us to put our best foot forward to end the year well. Let’s aim to do better than 22 fatalities come the end of 2012.
  24. I wish you all a fruitful discussion and hope that you will benefit from the rich wealth of knowledge shared at the conference. Thank you.

1 The construction sector saw 9 fatalities in the first half of 2012, down from 12 such cases in the same period last year. The sector’s mid-year workplace fatality rate also fell from 3.2 per 100,000 employed persons in 2011 to 2.2 in 2012.

2 Over the 4 week step-up inspection period (13 Aug 2012 till 6 Sep 2012), over 300 inspections were conducted. 24 stop-work orders were issued for poor WSH management at the worksite.

3 Design conflicts can occur when each discipline creates a model, independently of all the others and based upon the architect’s original model. For example, the beam that the structural engineer designed is right in the path of the air conditioning units the MEP engineer located.