Speech at Workplace Safety and Health Awards 2012
Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for Manpower and National Development, Fairmont Singapore
Mr Heng Chiang Gnee, Acting Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council,
Members of the WSH Council and Committees,
WSH Awards 2012 winners,
Industry partners and supporters,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- Good evening. I am happy to join you tonight to celebrate with the winners who have achieved excellent workplace safety and health (or WSH) standards.
- Mr Heng had earlier touched on the theme of the Council’s latest Annual Report – “What WSH means to you”. It’s actually an important question. Ask yourself what it really means to you. What does it translate to? As an individual, as an employer, as a colleague, what does it mean? For me, as with many things, it’s about the people around you, our friends and colleagues who work around us. It’s about making sure that lives are kept safe, that jobs are protected and kept safe for all concerned. We should keep safety at the top of our minds at all times not because we have to follow regulations but because we value and genuinely care for our fellow workers. We do it because we do not want to be telling families that their husband or father will not be coming back due to an accident at work. For every life lost is a family affected permanently. Some of you might unfortunately have had that experience. But we need to keep in mind those perspectives.
WSH performance in first half of 2012
- And, if only everyone had taken to heart the value of lives and done everything we could to safeguard them, perhaps we might not have lost 26 workers in the first half of this year. This is a slight decline from the 30 fatalities over the same period last year, but try telling that to the 26 families, to whom this would be scant consolation. It is clear we could do better for our workers so that everyone can go home safely to their families.
- All of you would have read the papers today. Yesterday’s fire at East Village Hotel was a poignant reminder. Newspaper reports showed photos of billowing smoke and the sombre faces of those who had just evacuated from the hotel. 11 people were injured in the fire, including workers and fire fighters. Even children were affected and I cannot imagine how traumatic it must have been for these young ones and everyone else involved. We were fortunate that there were no fatalities.
- Our preliminary investigations showed that the fire could have started at the basement where flammable polystyrene foam boards were stored. Before the accident, workers were carrying out gas cutting works nearby on the first storey of the hotel. While investigations are ongoing, I want to emphasise the importance for each and every one of us to take safety and health very seriously and do our best to prevent accidents like this fire from hurting the people around us. We can actually prevent it and make sure that no one gets hurt. We must not need another case like this to prompt us into action. As employers, all of you have responsibilities of bottom lines, but what is even greater is your responsibility for safety and to ensure your workers go home safely every day to their families. There must be no compromise on the safety front, and we should spare no efforts.
- And it can be done. We need not look further than you, our winners today, who have achieved excellent WSH standards. You have shown us challenges can be overcome. Many of you also do well in your businesses. Such achievements demonstrate that safety and business success can go hand in hand. We must, therefore, get people to adopt more of what our winners have done in preventing work incidents so that more can emulate and carry on the leadership mantra that WSH Award winners have been able to uphold.
WSH Award winners demonstrate leadership at all levels
- I note that the WSH Awards saw a 7% increase in the number of applicants from 419 last year to 449 this year. Of these, 228 companies and projects did not have any reportable accidents in the whole of 2011, better than 178 companies or projects the previous year. These WSH Award winners1 have demonstrated extraordinary safety leadership not only at the senior management level but also at the professionals, supervisors and workers level. Let me cite some examples.
- At the client and owner level, we are heartened that there are three developer winners this year. Besides 7-time winner City Developments Limited, CapitaLand Residential Singapore and Keppel Land have emerged as winners as well. Together, they have successfully ensured zero fatalities at 10 worksites employing more than 5,500 workers in 2011. So how did they pull that off?
- Firstly, their contractors put in place good WSH practices. For example, every Keppel Land worksite in Singapore and overseas has a Site Health and Safety Committee which is headed by a project manager from the main contractor and supported by a project team lead from Keppel Land who regularly reviews onsite safety practices. Over at CapitaLand Residential, it has an annual incentive scheme that reward contractors who have achieved excellence in environmental, health and safety (EHS) standards. As for City Developments Limited, the company conducts a rigorous EHS management training programme for their consultants and contractors, which has a positive spin-off effect in upgrading the standard of the construction industry in Singapore. Through the efforts of these developers, the 10 projects under their charge have achieved zero injuries in 21 million man hours of work on-site.
- Excellence in WSH leadership is not confined to the big players. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are also coming in a big and significant way onboard the WSH bandwagon. First-time winner of the WSH Risk Management Award, Testing Inspection & Solution Private Limited2, puts it simply – to ensure a sustainable working life for all its employees, ensuring safety is absolutely essential. It highlighted good risk management as the cornerstone in ensuring their business grows successfully and having a good track record to attract new clients. Testing has achieved over 192,000 man hours with no injuries over the past three years.
- WSH leadership is also at all levels, and is not confined to the top leadership. Top leadership plays a critical role to set an example, to set the tone, to set the culture that will permeate all levels. Individuals such as supervisors are also being recognised for their leadership attributes. WSH Award winner for Supervisor, Mohd Kartika bin Hurdi from Gammon Pte Limited, believes that WSH is like a survival kit in a concrete jungle i.e., the construction site. He wants to ensure that, if 10 workers are working with him that day, all 10 go home without a scratch at the end of the day. He does this by stopping them if they work unsafely, telling them the right way to do the work and motivating them to pass on their knowledge to other workers. It doesn’t take much. Every supervisor can do this, every worker can do this, and everyone can play their part. All we have to do is take the effort to remind ourselves and others of our responsibility to safety, and it will make a difference.
- Workers, too, can exhibit leadership in WSH. A team of workers from Tiong Seng Contractor met up fortnightly over three months to come up with an innovative and safer solution to mitigate falls from heights when installing balcony railings. Their invention – a safe working platform – requires only five simple installation steps and has helped their company save close to $125,000, bagging them a WSH Innovation Award this year.
- All our WSH Awards winners were able to make these achievements by taking on safety leadership at all levels and take personal responsibility. We should, therefore, encourage more companies to take the lead in safety. Allow me to share with you two initiatives that can guide us in this effort.
WSH Leadership Guide by WSH Institute
- To get top management to guide safety in an organisation through commitment and tangible actions, the WSH Institute has developed a “WSH Leadership Guide”3 with a 4-step Plan-Do-Check-Action practical guide. Developed by leaders for leaders, the Guide offers simple insights from consultations that WSH Institute had done with leaders from various industries. These case examples will share how these leaders surmount challenges and concerns to engage the “hearts and minds” of their line managers, workers and even sub-contractors.
- This is the first leadership guide developed by WSH Institute for top management of larger-sized companies, aimed at developing stronger leadership across Singapore’s businesses. It will be available on the WSH Institute’s website4 from September onwards.
Leveraging on large companies in engaging SMEs
- Larger companies, like many of our winners tonight, can help us get more SMEs to not only implement the right WSH measures but also embrace safety leadership. In the second initiative, the Council will collaborate with large property owners whose main tenants are SMEs. Through these owners, the Council will visit the SMEs at their premises, educate them on WSH checklists, guidance materials, as well as organise talks and roadshows nearby. Ascendas Services, Mapletree and Raffles Quay Asset Management have already committed to supporting this effort. Over the next two years, the Council will reach out to over 3,000 tenants in 144 buildings across Singapore.
- As many SMEs face limited resources in raising their WSH standards, we understand that they will, therefore, need some financial aid. To assist them, the Council will launch the WSH Assist5 programme to provide co-funding and targeted onsite assistance for SMEs. A pilot with 300 SMEs conducted earlier this year was very successful. For example, ESTECH Engineering Pte Ltd has put in place new measures to safeguard their workers, including installing a machine guard, implementing proper housekeeping rules, proper labelling of chemicals, and establishing incident reporting procedures. Having gone through WSH Assist, ESTECH is now on track to getting bizSAFE level 3 and will be audited on their risk management measures next week.
- SMEs who participate in WSH Assist will have WSH consultants visit and review their workplace, as well as help them develop an action plan. They will be eligible for co-funding of up to 80% to defray costs for engaging WSH consultants. WSH Assist will be rolled out by September and more than 100,000 SMEs will be eligible to apply for the scheme, which will provide $2.7 million assistance over 3 years. SMEs keen to participate can contact the Council for details.
- I would like to congratulate all our winners for their exemplary efforts at keeping our workers safe. I hope in many ways, the stories that have been shared will inspire us. It doesn’t take much. Some of these initiatives are new, but I am confident that they will be helpful to the industry and I urge all of you to tap on them to keep our workplaces safe. I encourage all of you, companies and workers, to provide feedback on prevention, on what more we can do to keep our workplaces safe. Thank you all for your commitment. Although our country depends much on migrant labour and foreign workers, I think that we have managed to achieve good results at the workplace. That said, we should not rest on our laurels. Remember that safety is about workers, family and everyone around us. Everyone has a part to play.
- Winners, my thanks to you for your commitment and I hope that you will keep up the excellent work and continue to set a fine example for others to follow. Thank you.
1 Please see Annex A for the fact sheet on the Awards; Annex B (I) and Annex B (II) for the complete list of WSH Award 2012 winners.
2 Established in 1995, Testing Inspection & Solution Pte Ltd provides services in the oil and gas, chemical and pharmaceutical industries such as heat treatment, conducting non-destructive testing, and consultancy in heating works and metallurgical applications.
3 Refer to Annex C for more details on the WSH Leadership Guide.
4 The Guide will be available online at the WSH Institute’s website.
5 Refer to Annex D for more information on WSH Assist.
Annex A - Factsheet on WSH Awards 2012
Annex B (I) - List of WSH Awards 2012 Winners
Annex B (II) - Profiles of WSH Awards 2012 Winners
Annex C - Towards Vision Zero - A Guide for Business Leaders Factsheet
Annex D - Factsheet on WSH Assist