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Speech at Construction Safety, Health and Security Campaign

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education, e2i (Employment and Employability Institute)

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

Mr Low Poh Kuan, Chairman of SCAL’s Workplace Safety and Health Committee and Campaign Organising Committee,

Distinguished speakers and guests,

Industry partners, ladies and gentlemen, 

  1. Good morning. I am happy to join you today at the launch of SCAL's Construction Safety, Health and Security Campaign. It is a timely effort to rally all partners to work together to achieve better workplace safety and health (or WSH) outcomes.

    WSH Performance in the Construction Sector
  2. The construction sector has come under close scrutiny in recent months for its poor WSH performance. Eight workers lost their lives in January 2014 alone. As at end June1 this year, the construction sector has seen 17 fatalities, up from 11 fatalities over the same period last year. There are also more major injuries over the same period this year compared to last year. We had 71 incidents in the first five months of this year, a 15% increase from the same period last year. If this trend continues, I am afraid we may end the year with a higher fatality and major injury rate than in 2013. These statistics are more than just numbers; behind each of this fatality number is someone's spouse, parent, child, friend or colleague. We simply cannot allow the situation to deteriorate further. Urgent and serious actions need to be taken to arrest the decline and improve the situation.
  3. I have said this many times and I will say it again. Many accidents can be easily avoided if basic preventive measures had been put in place or if safety procedures had been followed. Let me highlight some cases.
  4. In January this year, a tower crane was used to lift a material platform from ground level. The company then chose to suspend the platform at the seventh storey so that workers in the building could load an air compressor on it. While the workers were doing so, the platform suddenly tilted and caused the compressor to shift. The compressor then hit the workers standing on the platform and they fell to their deaths.
  5. Despite the WSH alerts that were sent to the industry to highlight the lapses in this case, such as establishing proper lifting procedures and ensuring workers are adequately trained and aware of the risks involved at work, we continue to see similar unsafe practices. Just last month, a lifting supervisor at a site dismantling a kentledge system2 was caught standing on a concrete block that was being hoisted by a crane. It is obvious that the hoisted block should not be used as a means to transport workers. Yet, we still see such practices on the ground. It is so commonsensical: it is so unsafe, yet we still see these practices on the ground.
  6. We cannot condone such unsafe practices. The Ministry of Manpower (or MOM) has stepped up our enforcement actions since January. Over 1600 inspections covering close to 850 companies in the construction sector have been conducted to date3. One of these sites was involved constructing the housing and sports facilities for a tertiary institution. Egregious WSH practices and acts were rampant. Our inspectors found dangerous practices related to work at heights, construction of openings and open sides, as well as excavation and electrical installation. For instance, there were missing guardrails at high levels and lift shafts of the building. There were also missing barricades to prevent workers from falling into the excavation site. For these dangerous acts, MOM issued a Stop Work Order so that corrective actions can be taken. The Stop Work Order was lifted after 22 days and a total of 44 fines amounting to $88,000 were also issued to the main contractor as a result of the inspection findings. The purpose of this is not to punish contractors, but to ensure that workplaces are safe for our workers.

    Enforcement findings targeting construction sites in landed properties
  7. Even in instances where advanced notices were given, a significant number of non-compliance with the WSH Regulations was found. This was the case for "Operation Peacock" in April which covered construction worksites in landed properties.
  8. The Operation found 280 WSH violations related to work at heights, scaffolding and electrical lapses on 144 worksites of 127 companies. We had to issue over 400 fines and Notices of Non-Compliance to the errant companies with fines totaling over $110,000. Four Stop Work Orders were also issued, with three lasting more than 20 days. We were lucky that no worker died or had major injuries at these sites, but the outcome could have been worse.
  9. Another enforcement operation, this time focusing on work at heights and crane safety, is currently underway. I hope we will have more positive findings to share with you when the analysis is finalised.
  10. Our message to developers and contractors is clear. We will not hesitate to take tougher action to safeguard the safety and wellbeing of our construction workers if the situation does not improve. Irresponsible stakeholders who cut corners and put workers and others unnecessarily at risk, will face tougher enforcement action.

    Updates on Enforcement Measures
  11. We will ratchet up the deterrence framework through higher penalties, expand the scope of the Business Under Surveillance (or BUS) programme and tighten conditions for the lifting of Stop Work Orders. It is going to be painful, but it is important to ensure that our workplaces are safe. The Demerit Point System is also currently being reviewed to enhance its effectiveness.
  12. Focused intervention efforts on work at heights safety, crane safety and formwork safety under the Programme-based Engagement (or ProBE) Plus programme that I announced earlier this year are underway. Over the past three months, we have reached out to more than 800 industry stakeholders through various outreach events, and will continue to do so to prepare them for the enforcement phase.
  13. We are also making progress together with the relevant stakeholders to put in place the regulatory measures and capacity building programmes needed to implement the Design for Safety (or DfS) programme as announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam during the National WSH Campaign in May this year. 

    I believe the implementation of DfS, which requires developers and designers to ensure designs are safe to build, would go a long way in removing WSH risks downstream during the construction stage.

    Reaching out to the industry
  14. Even as we enhance enforcement measures, we are putting an equal emphasis on supporting the build-up of WSH capability in the industry. MOM and the WSH Council, in collaboration with SCAL and relevant associations, will be organising a series of Work at Heights Clinics in the coming months. This will be a good opportunity for the industry to seek clarifications on the Work at Heights regulations and find out more on the resources available to build their competencies. The first clinic will be tailored for the construction industry, followed by subsequent sessions for the logistics, transport and facilities management sectors.
  15. To help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the Council has also enhanced the Safety Compliance Assistance Visit (or SCAV) Programme. So far, we have received positive feedback that the programme has been useful in helping companies to improve their WSH systems through an assessment of the workplace conditions and activities and offering practical advice to overcome the shortcomings. Hence, we have doubled the number of SCAV visits to 1,600 this year. Such visits will be available not just for construction companies, but open to companies in logistics and transport, healthcare, hospitality and entertainment, as well as metalworking and manufacturing.
  16. Both the SCAV service and Work at Heights Clinics are free, so really, do sign up and take advantage of these programmes.

    Conclusion – Call for stakeholders to do more
  17. Our efforts in tightening regulations and rolling out assistance programmes will not be effective in solving WSH issues in the long term unless the industry adopts a proactive approach towards better WSH.
  18. To each group of stakeholders, I have a call to action for you:
  19. SCAL, you need to rally your members to work together towards the common goal of improving the industry's WSH standards.
  20. Employers, you must set the example and promote WSH throughout the entire supply chain – from workers to subcontractors – and influence them to adhere to good WSH practices.
  21. Employees, please do not put yourself at risk just to save time or for convenience. You have to be vigilant and take responsibility for your personal safety and health as well as that of your co-workers.
  22. And lastly, developers, you should address WSH risks before starting construction work and factor in WSH performance when selecting your contractors.
  23. Each and every one of us is responsible for safety and health, and the slightest slip-up in WSH could mean dire consequences for our worker, our company and the people around us. We need to come together, work together and move together to improve our WSH standards and achieve excellence. I think we can do it. The figures that I cited earlier are a stark reminder to stakeholders to take responsibility. We owe it to our workers to ensure that the workplace is safe.
  24. With that, I wish SCAL success in your campaign and the rest, an enriching day ahead. Thank you.

1 As of 17 June 2014, the construction sector saw 17 fatalities.
2 Kentledge refers to the loads placed on a test setup for pile testing.
3 As of 31 May 2014.