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Speech at Opening of the Programme-Based Engagement Plus Forum

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower, Suntec Singapore

Mr Wong Weng Sun, Chairman Work at Height Taskforce, WSH Council, President and CEO, Sembcorp Marine Ltd

Industry Leaders,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning

  1. I do appreciate the contributions of all industry leaders, who have been working very hard to pass the message that we have, as a matter of responsibility and in our own companies’ interest to make sure that our workplaces continue are safe and safer for ourselves and our workers. I am pleased to join you here at today’s Programme-Based Engagement Plus (or ProBE Plus) Forum.

    Importance of Work at Heights Safety
  2. Every year, the Ministry of Manpower and WSH Council will identify key areas under the ProBE Plus programme to address major causes of work injuries. ProBE Plus kickstarts with extensive engagement and capability building efforts to get the industry to improve the management of specific areas of work, and follows through with enforcement checks to ensure better management of the identified areas. This year, Probe Plus will focus on raising safety standards for Work at Heights.
  3. Working at Heights is an activity with one of the highest risks of workplace accidents. Over the years, falls remained the top workplace killer. Last year alone, 26 workers died from such falls, accounting for about 40% of all work fatalities. These included 17 falls from heights and 9 slips, trips and falls accidents. While the construction and marine industries have reduced fatalities due to falls from 15 in 2010 to 11 in 2011, they continue to account for almost half of all fatal falls. There was also a notable increase in accidents resulting from falls in other industries such as manufacturing and logistics. I hope these two industries are well represented today.
  4. As outlined by Mr Wong earlier, while some progress has been seen in the implementation of Fall Prevention Plans in construction sites and shipyards, we need all sites, all shipyards and all other sectors to also do the same. If every workplace takes steps to effectively address the risks of working at heights, we will be able to prevent needless accidents of workers falling from vehicles, buildings under construction and off the fragile roofs of warehouses that gave way under the weight of workers carrying out roofworks.

    Work at Heights Masterplan and ProBE Plus efforts
  5. To address Work from Heights issues holistically, the Work at Heights taskforce has formulated a three-pronged Work at Heights masterplan that will focus on one, raising awareness; two, building strong capabilities and three, enhancing our Work at Heights regulatory framework to improve compliance through enforcement.
  6. The ProBE Plus programme for the year 2012 will also adopt the same three-pronged approach in four critical areas. These are: (1) Roof Works; (2) Work on Ladders; (3) Work on Structures; and (4) Work on Scaffolds & Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWP). These activities are the main contributors of Work at Heights incidents and it is crucial that we improve safety standards in these areas.

    Enhancing safety in roofworks and working on ladders
  7. Today, I will elaborate more on the new efforts to improve the safety of roof works and working on ladders. Ladders are widely used, whether at home or at work. The risk of falling from a ladder is, unfortunately, deemed to be low and is generally neglected by many users of ladders. Just look back at our own personally experiences at home. I think most of us have not thought about whether the ladder we use at home is safe, as we think we can manage the risks. But imagine this happening at the workplace, in the industry, everyday. In reality, accidents resulting from improper ladder usage could result in serious injury, or even death. Last year alone, there were four workplace fatalities due to falls from ladders, two of which involved technicians carrying out electrical works using a ladder. In both cases, the technicians fell and were struck fatally on their heads by the ladders. There is a Malay proverb, “Sudah jatuh, ditimpa tangga” (you have fallen and have been hit by a ladder), which means one has a problem has gotten in to a deeper problem. In this case, the workers fell from the ladder and were literally hit by the ladder, and this should not have happened. We must thus address this problem and I am glad to note that the WSH Council will be launching a year-long Ladder Safety Campaign to generate awareness on ladder safety as part of the ProBE Plus Programme. This includes the Ladder Safety Pack that you will receive today. We are also glad to share that we have Builders Mart Pte Ltd, the Singapore Electrical Contractors and the Licensed Electrical Workers Association to partner us for the ladder safety campaign. They will help us distribute the Ladder Safety Pack to both buyers of new ladders as well as existing ladder users.
  8. On the area of roofworks, it is crucial that the companies and workers involved have the know-how to carry out such work safely. Standing and working on top of roofs without adequate fall prevention equipment is an extremely dangerous act that had contributed to the five roof-work related fatalities we saw last year. In particular, I am gravely concerned of workers falling through fragile roofs, e.g. skylights that are commonly seen in factory buildings. We saw three such accidents last year. In one of the cases, the worker was assessing the roof of a warehouse to prepare for minor roof maintenance. The key word is minor. Tragedy struck when he stepped on a fragile skylight which broke under his weight. Consequently he suffered a 10 metre fall and lost his life on the spot. In a similar accident two weeks ago, a worker fell more than 7m through a fragile zinc roof of a factory building. The worker was wearing a restraint belt but was not anchored. Fortunately, the worker managed to survive the fall. Rather than depending on luck to determine the life and death of a worker, we can prevent accidents due to roof-works if the companies and their workers are aware, understand and implement safety measures to protect workers carrying out roof-works. It was with this intent that the WSH Council is launching a set of Guidelines for working Safely on Roofs today. This guide aims to raise the capabilities of companies carrying out roof-works and spells out the correct method as well as proper safety measures that can be adopted to prevent falls from roofs.
  9. I urge the industry to tap on these materials to enhance practices. Responsible employers must always put safety and health as our first priority and ensure that all workers are educated on the dangers of Working at Heights and on the safety precautions they must take. All workers must have the requisite skills to manage Work at Heights risks before they can be allowed to commence such activities.

    Dedicated Work at Heights Regulations
  10. On the regulatory front, MOM is currently exploring the introduction of a dedicated set of Work at Heights regulations, as we review our existing rules and look to streamline them while addressing areas that could be potentially strengthened. This includes mandating Fall Prevention Plans for all workplaces and extending the Permit-to-work system, which already exists for Scaffold operations. The latter provides a systematic framework to ensure that hazardous work is allowed to commence only after the work environment and condition are assessed to be safe by competent persons. MOM will be working closely with the WSH Council to engage industry stakeholders in the formulation of the Regulations for efficient and effective solutions, keeping in view industry practises and work environments. We plan to kick off public consultation on the Regulations in the second quarter of 2012. We look forward to your participation and views before we put up the regulations.

  11. As we engage on this journey to address Work at Heights safety, we need your commitment and your support to make sure our workplaces become safer. We are doing quite well in terms of reducing the number of .accidents and fatalities. 2.2 fatalities per 100,000 workers last year is good, and we are close to achieving our target of 1.8 per 100,000 workers by 2018. But we must not subject any workers, or ourselves, to be one of those persons included in the statistics. All of us must make sure that we can prevent accidents and incidents at all our workplaces. That is the basic contribution that we can make to all our workers, and I’m sure all of you are aware that fatalities and major accidents at workplaces is very costly. Work may have to stop, and that is financially costly. Apart from that, think of the cost that the family of the deceased worker, and the problems the family will have to face in the coming years as a result of the accident. So let us all work together to stop falls at our workplaces are safer for our workers and ourselves. Thank you.