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Speech at bizSAFE Convention 2013

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower, Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel

Mr Lee Tzu Yang, Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. A very good morning, I’m pleased to see many of you here at this year’s bizSAFE Convention.
  2. In the short video earlier, you saw that the bizSAFE community has grown to 14,000-strong. That is about a four-fold increase since the inaugural Convention in 2009, when there were 4,000 bizSAFE companies. This indicates a level of growing awareness. But success and improvement in this realm can’t be measured simply by numbers alone. Other aspects, such as avoiding near-misses and potential accidents, having companies come onboard and participate in events like this and signing on as a bizSAFE company – will have an impact. Every life saved, every person that avoids being injured is worth our effort. That’s why we advocate WSH to make sure that more companies are aware, and hopefully more companies come onboard as well.
  3. In the last two weeks, all of us have been celebrating the Lunar New Year. I’m not sure how many Lo Heis you all have been having. It’s part of our culture, it’s the way we celebrate our various festivals. I think we should also move to a stage where adopting WSH practices becomes very much part of our culture as well. A WSH culture also shows that you value your staff, which is a basic business tenet – it makes good business sense and it’s also good management. There are many ways which you can engage your workers - investing and showing concern in the realm of workplace safety and health is one very important area. It’s also a very practical area because workers are concerned about it themselves. As you put in place these measures, your workers will go home safe and sound and that is the right thing to do.
  4. Today’s theme is “Invest in Safety for Business Success”. In other words, good workplace safety practices are really the core of any profitable and thriving business. Let me share with you quite frankly that I generally tend not to like emphasizing safety only because it makes good business sense. I would rather we look out for safety and WSH requirements because we feel it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do for our employees and for our colleagues at work. So we may start off for practical reasons – because we think that it makes business sense – but along the way, it becomes a culture and we embrace WSH more, as we begin to see how that impacts our workers and our workers’ engagement. So we must do it because it is the right thing to do, and because from a business management standpoint, this is actually a very logical thing to do.

    Business Success through Workforce Management
  5. During the reception, I was speaking to Roger Heng, Managing Director for LSK Engineering. He was just sharing how his company puts in place measures to send most, if not all, of its workers for health screening. They’ve done it for a couple of years. I was asking him whether it makes a difference, in terms of workers’ loyalty and engagement, for the worker to feel that the company is investing time and effort in looking after, not just their safety, but also their health. And his sense is that it has made an impact.
  6. That’s something worth thinking about. Because all of us are concerned, it’s not just about safety, it’s about our health, and all of us are preoccupied with that. If companies invest in that, in whatever shape and form, it goes a very long way in assuring your employees that you pay attention to those things and in the long term, along with other management practices, it will begin to deepen that sense of engagement with the company.
  7. So if you have a poorly managed workforce, it would loosen the ties you have with your employees. I’d say the converse is true. If we say people are our most important resource, we need to invest in training and engagement. And if we go the extra mile, that’s where you create the bonds that you have with your people. We have to walk the talk, and adopting WSH practices is one way of demonstrating that.
  8. There are successful companies which are able to meet their targets ahead of time and at the same time keep the work environment safe. They make sure there are low fatalities and low serious injuries, so there’s no reason why we can’t embrace this in a significant way.

    Business Success through Operational Efficiency
  9. Secondly, business success comes from operational efficiency as well. So when you have well-running operations, less accidents, less incidents, you also have less work stoppages. When there are accidents, confidence is also shaken – you have to take time out to re-look at things, which is important, but it also sets you back. So sometimes slow is fast. It’s not about being fast for an individual project, but sustainability over the long term and for your business reputation as well.
  10. We should also pay attention to workplace health – making sure that your workers stay healthy, even in the office. There are things you can do to make sure your employees pay attention to these things, and when they are healthier, there are less illnesses, it also makes for good productivity all round.
  11. In the last year, we all remember there were a couple of high-profile accidents. The Bugis Downtown Line MRT station construction site was one example, and of course the oil rig at Jurong Shipyard. Accidents do happen from time to time. When the safety measures are in place, you can minimise the impact, but we still lose many man-hours in the process. It behooves all of us to remember that, in striving for more efficiency, an emphasis on WSH plays a very important part.
  12. We see the impact of poor WSH practices when we carried out our inspections on 529 construction worksites in late 20121. We found major breaches in the areas of working at heights, usage of scaffolds, provision of entry and exit points and so on – all of which could have been better managed. MOM took stern action on involved contractors, including issuing 27 stop work orders. Close to 400 work days were lost. In addition, companies had to pay fines amounting to more than $350,000.
  13. The whole purpose of these inspections is not just to “catch people” out, but to remind us to put in place WSH measures - because we don’t want to have delays and because it’s the right thing to do.

    Business success through enhanced reputation
  14. And as I said earlier, business success comes from enhanced reputation. In the industry we all know of certain companies who have a good reputation for looking after their people. This reputation helps when people are deciding which companies to join, which companies to stay with, and so on. And it is something that you would want to pay attention to: the sense of fulfilment you feel should not come from just your bottom line but also from how people respond to your company; how your workers employees respond to your company and your efforts. And that sense of satisfaction you gain from their gratitude and their sense of attachment to the company – I would suggest that that’s something invaluable as well. All of us know what it’s like to work in a place where there’s a strong friendly and engaging work culture.
  15. So we would want to support companies in their WSH journeys. For example, in our procurement guidelines, we only allow companies with bizSAFE recognition to bid for our projects. In an announcement last year, the Government also highlighted that it will only engage cleaning companies with the Clean Mark, which requires these companies to be bizSAFE-recognised. I am glad to share that there are about 56 government agencies joining today’s Convention who will soon embark on their safety journey as well.
  16. The benefits of a good reputation in safety are best seen in the 11 bizSAFE Awards2 winners today. They have done very well in improving the safety, health and business outcomes for their companies and partners. One of them is bizSAFE Partner Award winner PPL Shipyard. PPL considers WSH as part of its overall business strategy, in driving a productive workforce and ensuring smooth business operations. The company also helps its subcontractors build their WSH capabilities through bizSAFE. Through its efforts, PPL has significantly reduced its Accident Frequency Rate from 0.6 in 2010 to 0.16 in 2012. PPL Shipyard’s Chief Financial Officer, Mr Lee Tee Chin says that his company believes in the philosophy ‘Good safety is good business’.
  17. PPL’s journey was however, not without roadblocks. In 2006, it suffered a major setback when a crane accident killed three workers. But, through persistence and a renewed commitment to safe work practices, PPL has improved its safety performance and is making great strides. This shows that all companies, even those currently not doing well, can improve if there is determination to do so.
  18. And for many of you who have experienced accidents at your workplace, whether fatal or serious, you know that at the end of it, it’s not just the loss of time, it’s also the emotional impact that such accidents have on your fellow colleagues and on management as well. And at that stage, I imagine many of the companies would be thinking, “I wish I’d done this, I wish I’d done that”, and that regret is something that we all want to avoid.

    Safety is a Continuous Journey
  19. This year alone, 8 employees have died in work accidents, compared to 7 in the same period last year. Now frankly, we track these statistics, but we must remember that behind every statistic, even if there was an improvement per se, it is still a person that we have lost. We should not just look at fatalities; serious injuries matter as much. Some of these injuries may have a greater impact, especially if it is a long-term or permanent disability. That is a lifelong disability that someone is facing and the impact on the family goes a very long way.
  20. So I urge all of us not to take things for granted. Whatever our statistics show, we cannot let up on our emphasis on safety. We cannot be complacent. Overall, we have done well. But we are also reaching somewhat of a plateau and we need to strike a breakthrough. Every other day, I read emails on accidents, usually the fatality cases and I can tell you that, for almost every email I read, I think to myself that it is an accident that could have been avoided. And that’s one life lost. And sometimes you dig a bit deeper and realise that another family is affected. Sometimes, I find it difficult to read these cases.
  21. But it reminds us that we must continue to press on, even the Award-winners. For all of us in management who have responsibilities in the workplace, do spend some time in raising this to encourage others around you, including sub-contractors. That would be a very good step and that is something that we should encourage.
  22. So I do urge all of us to renew our commitment and emphasis on this area – it really, really matters. With that I wish all of us a safe year ahead. Thank you very much.

1 For more information on Operation Talon, please refer to Annex A.
2 For more information on the bizSAFE Awards and winners this year, please refer to Annex B.