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Speech at Workplace Ergonomics Forum

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower, Singapore Institute of Management

Distinguished guests,

Industry partners,

Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. Good morning. I am pleased to join you at today's forum on workplace ergonomics.

    Importance of good workplace health
  2. We often talk about the importance of workplace safety at our forums, such as installing safety barricades and ensuring workers are equipped with personal protective equipment to prevent falls. Comparatively less attention is given to workplace health issues. However, the impact of failures in workplace health management is no less severe than workplace safety lapses. Poor workplace health can put workers at risk of occupational diseases (or ODs) and have a serious impact on workers' personal health. It can be a lifelong problem for the workers. ODs also carry an economic cost to the company and country.
  3. In 2012, there were 987 confirmed cases1 of ODs in Singapore. Noise-induced deafness is the leading cause of ODs, followed by occupational skin disease and work-related musculoskeletal disorders (or WRMSDs). In most developed countries such as those of the European Union, WRMSDs are the most common type of OD. Being a developed country, we can expect Singapore to show and to experience a similar trend.
  4. Therefore, it is important for the industry to recognise some of these workplace health hazards and the associated risks, and ensure that they are properly managed.

    Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders
  5. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders affect the muscles, tendons or nerves. These can happen to workers across all industries, not just those in physically demanding jobs. They are often caused by prolonged exposure to work activities involving forceful manual exertions, awkward postures, and repetitive actions. Other contributing factors include work with vibrating machines or equipment and insufficient recovery time. Ignoring symptoms such as aches and pain in the neck, back, shoulders or hands can result in a worsening of the condition, and can lead to permanent disability. Sometimes we experience this. Some aches on your body and we think it will go away, or that it is stress-related. I think we all need to be more conscious about this. As employers and leaders in our organisations we have to pay closer attention to these issues, so that our workers can be well protected and can continuously function well in our organisations.
  6. According to a WSH Institute survey conducted in 2008, 6.9% of the 4,500 employees surveyed had a work-related health problem. WRMSDs were identified as the leading problem, accounting for 41% of all work-related health problems reported. Based on the results, the WSH Institute estimates that work-related musculoskeletal disorders and other ergonomic problems result in an economic loss of $3.5 billion a year to Singapore. The cost to workers’ health and well-being is of course immeasurable, because it affects not just him, but also his family.

    Benefits of Ergonomic Interventions
  7. Employers should therefore take an active role in protecting workers from WRMSDs. This can be easily achieved through ergonomic interventions such as improving the workplace layout and design, as well as redesigning the work tasks and work environment.
  8. Baxter Healthcare is an example of a company that has adopted good workplace ergonomic practices. Employees in Baxter's packing section handle over 200 heavy carton boxes per shift. To reduce the physical strain on their employees, Baxter has installed a vacuum lifter. This has helped to improve staff wellbeing, overall job satisfaction and productivity. I understand participants today will be able to find out how to address risk factors for WRMSDs at the industry sharing sessions later and I hope that you will apply the knowledge gained in your workplaces.
  9. The Workplace Safety and Health Council and Ministry of Manpower will also embark on a few initiatives to raise awareness of these disorders and help employers manage and prevent them. You will find that all these initiatives relate to raising capabilities, raising awareness, and have nothing to do with punishment and enforcement. We would like to work together with you to ensure that you can raise the level of awareness and capabilities of your managers and your workers. Let me list some of the initiatives that we have.

    Inclusion of selected injury cases as WRMSD in the 2014 WSH Statistics
  10. First, back injuries due to ergonomic risks will be classified under WRMSD in the WSH Statistics for 2014. Back injuries were previously classified under minor injuries, but they are found to be caused by manual lifting and carrying of heavy materials. Including them under WRMSDs will give us a more complete picture of the injuries caused by poor ergonomic practices and increase awareness on the ground as well.

    Resource materials to support industry in improving workplace ergonomics
  11. Second, we have developed a set of guidance materials to help employers apply good ergonomic practices in the workplace and improve workers' health. These comprise the WSH Guidelines on Improving Ergonomics in the Workplace and a video about successful cases of ergonomic interventions in the workplace. The guidelines provide tips for establishing and implementing an in-house ergonomics programme and good ergonomic practices in the workplace. Together with existing materials such as the Guide for the Diagnosis and Management of Occupational Diseases and the ergo at WSH mobile application, which is a useful tool to identify risks from poor work postures during manual lifting and office work, I believe these new materials will help both employers and employees better manage such ergonomic risks in the workplace.
  12. Third, we are developing an e-learning module course on WRMSD awareness. The course will provide users with an understanding of common ergonomic risks such as forceful exertion and awkward postures, and the measures to address these risks.
  13. Fourth, we will assist companies that wish to undertake workplace ergonomic redesign. These companies can apply for the relevant funding under the WorkPro programme administered by the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which aims to foster progressive workplaces and assist companies in improving workplace practices. More information on the WorkPro programme will be shared by a speaker from WDA later in the programme.

    Conclusion
  14. We need everyone's commitment to look into their workplaces and make adjustments to address workplace health risks to prevent injuries and ill health. An effective workplace health program c an reduce health risks and improve the quality of life for our workers. At the same time, maintaining a healthier workforce can positively impact productivity through lower absenteeism. That will also mean lower costs for your organisation.
  15. With your efforts, Singapore's workplaces can be made safer, healthier, happier and more productive. I wish everyone a fruitful and successful forum ahead. Thank you.

1 Workplace Safety and Health Report 2012