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Speech at Construction Safety, Health and Security Campaign 2013 Opening Ceremony

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower, Construction House

Dr Ho Nyok Yong,
President, Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL),

Mr Dominic Choy,
Chairman of the Workplace Safety, Health and Security Campaign Organising Committee

Distinguished guests and speakers,

Industry partners, ladies and gentlemen,

  1. Good morning to all. I am pleased to join you at the 30th Construction Safety, Health and Security Campaign. My thanks to SCAL and supporting partners for your continued strong commitment in the many challenges that we face, be it in managing safety and health, raising productivity or supporting the national fight against dengue. All of which were mentioned by Dominic. I know that SCAL has been doing a lot of work. I could see your commitment in organising capability building activities for your members and workers, like today’s seminar.

    Tackling the haze situation
  2. Besides the many challenges mentioned, the construction industry recently had to also grapple with the haze situation. As Dominic had shared, contractors have had to manage many concerns and it is not easy. It is, therefore, important that SCAL supports your members. I understand that SCAL will be issuing more advisories on the management of haze with risk assessment examples by some of the contractors. This will be most useful in helping employers put measures in place to protect their workers’ health.
  3. So far, some of the major players in the construction sector have already been proactive in doing so. Many have developed their own standard operating procedures to deal with the haze and put in place mitigating measures. For example, by providing protective masks to workers who cannot avoid outdoor work, monitoring vulnerable workers during hazy conditions; and urging workers to drink more water to prevent heat stress under the hot and dry weather. Local contractors such as Woh Hup, Tiong Seng, Samwoh and Hexacon implemented breaks from outdoor work when the situation warranted. Woh Hup and Gammon also have medical response facilities to take care of workers who become ill due to the haze.
  4. Some developers have also supported their contractors in protecting the workers. For example, CapitaLand and City Developments Limited advised builders to implement rest rotations, heighten safety monitoring onsite and avoiding non-critical outdoor work involving high physical effort if PSI levels are excessively high.
  5. Government agencies that undertook the Public Sector Commitment to Workplace Safety and Health1 (or WSH) earlier this year, are also working closely with their contractors to manage the impact of the haze. For example, the Housing and Development Board had alerted their contractors early to conduct risk assessment, and put in place appropriate measures to look after workers.
  6. These are all good examples of what we can and should do. It is important that every stakeholder in the construction industry understands that all of us have an active part to play in managing the haze situation. We don’t know exactly how long the haze will last, but we know that life must go on. So I urge all of you to continue to put the safety and health of your workers as the first priority, and make the necessary adjustments. Provide them the necessary protective gear, stagger work schedules to minimise exposure, suspend work activities such as lifting when visibility is poor. Your workers have worked hard for you. In turn, you should look after their well-being, particularly their health and safety.

    Safe work at heights remain an important issue
  7. While we focus our efforts on managing the ill effects of the haze, l would like to take this opportunity to also urge the construction industry to stay focused on improving overall workplace safety. Let me share with you some of the more recent statistics on construction safety. In the first six months of this year2, the construction sector has seen 11 fatalities, up from nine fatalities over the same period last year. Injuries also rose by 8%, from 834 injuries in the first five months in 2012, to 901 injuries for the same period this year.
  8. In terms of major injuries, falls from heights continues to be the top contributor3. We are concerned about this trend. As part of MOM’s efforts to improve safety when working at heights, we enacted the new Work at Heights (or WAH) Regulations in May this year. This followed more than a year of consultation with all of you – our industry stakeholders. Also in May, MOM conducted the first WAH enforcement exercise4.The exercise covered nearly 300 workplaces in the construction, marine and manufacturing sectors. Of the worksites inspected, 22% have implemented Fall Prevention Plans and Permit-to-Work voluntarily, before these requirements become mandatory on 1 May next year. This is good progress, but we continue to see safety violations unfortunately. A total of 107 violations were uncovered during the operation, with 43 fines and eight stop work orders issued.
  9. We continue to see violations such as open sides, unsafe scaffolds and unsafe methods of access. Why do occupiers, employers and supervisors continue to put workers at risks? It’s always the same question that we ask when we see unsafe practices. We should recognise that, while laws, regulations and enforcement can set the framework on what is to be expected, it is vital for those on the ground to do the right thing.
  10. We understand that wanting to do the right thing is sometimes not enough – we must also ensure that we raise awareness and train both the companies and the workers so that they know the appropriate measures to adopt. The National Work at Heights Taskforce has earlier established the WAH Competency Framework to raise competencies for workers, supervisors, assessors and managers. This has been rolled out for supervisors and workers. In addition, the WAH workers’ course was also incorporated in the Enhanced Construction Safety Orientation Course which was rolled out on 1 May this year5. Now, employers in the industry only need to send their workers for one training session to equip them with basic construction and WAH safety knowledge. With this enhancement, it is easy to get your workers trained and be competent. The WSH Council has also completed the curriculum for the WAH courses for assessors and managers. This is expected to be rolled out this month. The industry will have close to a year to get ready for the requirements for the Fall Prevention Plan and Permit-to-Work which will be mandated in May 2014. As SCAL organises the cross-company site visits that Dominic had mentioned earlier, it would be good if you can also share how you implement these measures in your sites so that more contractors will know how they can better manage working at heights.

  11. All of us need to work together, whether in managing work safety or the haze. With the haze, it is important that we are prepared to make adjustments sensibly as the situation requires, as you are already doing. We should watch out for one another, take care of those with existing health conditions, and make the right decisions with minimising outdoor strenuous work if conditions deteriorate.
  12. As the demand for construction activities continue to grow, I urge all stakeholders not to let up on workplace safety and health and always put it as a priority. In line with today’s theme, let me also add that putting emphasis on safety and health will also lead to productivity gains, as highlighted in the many examples that Dominic had shared earlier. Therefore, I would like to encourage you to continue increasing the awareness and capability of the whole industry. I wish you safe, healthy, haze-free and productive days ahead. Thank you.

1 At the National WSH Campaign on 20 May 2013, 37 government agencies made a "Public Sector Commitment to Workplace Safety and Health", pledging to emphasise workplace safety and health throughout the lifespan of their construction projects, and to appoint a management representative to oversee safety and health issues at the worksites.
2 As of 20 June 2013, the construction sector has seen 11 fatalities.
3 In 2012, the construction sector saw 153 major injuries. Falls from heights was the top contributor.
4 For the media release on findings from the WAH enforcement exercise, please see Annex A.
5 For more info on the Enhanced Construction Safety Orientation Course, please see Annex B.