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Speech at Singapore Chemical Industry Council (SCIC) Annual Dinner 2014 and Responsible Care 2013 Awards Presentation

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower, At Shangri-La Hotel Singapore

Dr Tay Kin Bee, Chairman of the Singapore Chemical Industry Council,
SCIC Board Members,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. A good evening to everyone. I am pleased to join you at tonight’s Singapore Chemical Industry Council (SCIC) Annual Dinner and Responsible Care Awards Presentation.
  2. We are all here today to honour the award recipients, so congratulations to them.

    Importance of WSH in Chemical Industry
  3. The chemical industry is a major contributor to Singapore’s total manufacturing output, accounting for 33.4% of the output or about S$97 billion1 in 2013. The industry recorded an investment value of over S$2.5 billion, the highest within the manufacturing industry. Today, Singapore is home to over 95 chemical companies from countries such as the United States, Europe and Japan.
  4. What we are encouraged by is that the number of workplace fatalities had decreased from 4 in 2011 to zero in 2012 and 2013. However, although workplace injuries had declined from 134 in 2011 to 120 in 2012, it shot up to 170 in 2013. This goes to show that we cannot afford to be complacent.
  5. While we are encouraged by the fall in fatalities, I think we do need to watch out for injury numbers and illnesses as well. Because sometimes, we are just fortunate that some of these incidents did not become fatal. I would say that there is improvement overall, if there is a fall not just in fatality numbers, but also in injury numbers. That’s when you feel and you know that things are progressing. So that’s why it’s important to look at it holistically. Even though we may be improving on some fronts with the fall in fatalities, we need to look at the other areas as well. We cannot afford to become complacent.
  6. The consequence of any workplace safety and health (WSH) accident in this industry can be far-reaching, causing mass casualties and extensive damage to property given the nature of the industry, so any accident is not just about economic impact, it is the impact on lives. Not just the people who are working in your companies, but potentially the people living in the environment, situated around your workplaces.
  7. Process safety should therefore be a fundamental tenet of every chemical company’s operating philosophy. Everyone, from plant owners to contractors and workers, has an important role to play in cultivating a safe working environment in a chemical facility. In a highly integrated setup like Jurong Island, every plant must operate with a clear understanding of its own processes and how its undertakings can affect other plants in the same setup. Thousands of workers and visitors travel daily to the island, thus any major disaster such as explosion or toxic release can lead to dire ramifications not only to thousands of people in Jurong Island but also to the population living in the western part of Singapore.
  8. To ensure a safe and healthy environment that is sustainable, companies need to progress to the next level and adopt a mindset change in WSH. This is the right thing to do for our workers. Losing any life is one too many and it’s similar for the injuries. Sometimes, the injuries are permanent, and we feel sorry, we take steps to rectify the lapses. But, the impact on family members lasts for the rest of their lives. It is important for all of us to remember this, especially for the management level. Emphasis must come from the top, and as you filter it down, there is a high probability and chance that people will actually take it seriously, because the bosses walk the talk,inspect and emphasise it at every opportunity they can.

    Government Initiatives to Enhance WSH
  9. On the government’s part, we have put in place various initiatives to help chemical companies enhance their WSH practices.
  10. First, the WSH Council and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) have produced resources including Guidelines for Management of Hazardous Chemicals Programme; Checklists for compliance; Case Studies of good practices; and Process Safety Performance Indicators guidelines to help the industry build up their capabilities. These resources are easily available on the WSH Council website. So do make use of them, and if you have any suggestions about what we could add to the website, do let us know and we would be happy to take it on board.
  11. Second, while the industry has shown progress over the past few years, findings from past investigations have shown that many companies still need to further strengthen their WSH culture. I like to emphasise that tools and policies alone do not just make up a WSH culture. WSH must be accepted as an integral part of your corporate approach to every single thing that you do. The WSH Council has developed the CultureSAFE programme that aims to cultivate the right WSH mindset and attitude in every employee – from the top management down to the workers. The right mindset and attitude do not just reinforce the importance of WSH, but also establish a progressive and pervasive safety and healthy culture. Companies should adopt the mindset that every incident of injury and ill-health due to work is preventable. I often get reports of incidents, and as I scan through the reports, I would say that virtually every accident is preventable. It is because somebody, somewhere down the line, did not pay attention to safety. It’s very tragic to read that, not just the fatalities but the injuries as well. Thus, I strongly encourage companies that have yet to instil a WSH culture within their organisations to start this journey by coming on board the CultureSAFE programme.
  12. Last but not least, companies with good safety performance should also join the bizSAFE community as bizSAFE Partners or Mentors. By doing so, they can help the smaller players such as their subcontractors to build up their capabilities, so that they can add value to the industry by sustaining good WSH outcomes.
  13. What it means is this – many of you operate as sub-contractors in other companies or have other companies that support you. So not only should you look at embracing the safety culture within your company, you should also extend your culture to those companies, so that WSH is demanded or expected of those companies.

    SCIC’s Role and Contributions to the Industry
  14. For these initiatives to bear fruit, we need the support from the industry. Hence, I am particularly heartened to know that SCIC is demonstrating industry leadership in this area of workplace safety and health.
  15. For example, SCIC was involved in the review and enhancement of the Pressure Vessel Extension Scheme with MOM to address the industry’s call for greater flexibility in managing pressure vessels in the workplaces. The enhancement of the scheme, which was based on risk-based inspection, was put in place in 2012. It takes into consideration technical advances in design and materials, as well as key factors which affect industry competitiveness such as process operation schedules and business cost. The scheme allows owners of pressure vessels to exercise greater flexibility in managing their usage and optimising plant operational output without compromising safety outcomes. This also means that the industry must constantly enhance and upgrade the competency of risk-based inspections on pressure vessels. In this respect, SCIC can work with the relevant stakeholders to build the industry’s capability.

    Responsible Care Awards
  16. Tonight’s event marks the 24th year since Responsible Care was adopted by SCIC in 1990 and the SCIC Responsible Care Committee has been actively championing and driving this initiative with the chemical industry.
  17. This initiative is not just about following a set of policies, operational and safe work procedures, but about the attitude one has towards workplace safety and health. It represents the companies’ commitment to incorporate a conscious mindset to protect their people and the environment in their corporate culture. In other words, it is very much in line with cultivating a safe and progressive WSH culture.
  18. And when your companies actually expend the effort to really look after the workplace safety and health aspects, your workers will also feel that they are looked after, valued and respected. That, in turn, can deepen their appreciation as well. This is something that is important for a multitude of reasons, and has a bearing on productivity and engagement.
  19. I would like to congratulate all award-winners here tonight for their commitment and outstanding achievement in the Responsible Care programme. 123 Responsible Care Awards will be given out tonight and among the award recipients is Absotech Pte Ltd – a first-time winner of the Responsible Care Award. With 16 employees, Absotech has put in place a series of effective health and safety measures which includes identification and assessment of workplace hazards, prevention of unsafe conditions and fostering of training and communications in order to protect the health and safety of their workers. I hope Absotech will serve as a good example to all SMEs that you do not have to be a big organisation to be part of the Responsible Care movement. Any organisation with the right attitude and commitment can also be part of the Responsible Care Movement.

    Closing Remarks
  20. Before I conclude, I would like to thank SCIC for playing a prominent role in constantly looking after the interest of the chemical industry.
  21. I urge everyone not to rest on their laurels – we should remain focused and committed as the chemical industry continues to take the lead in the area of safety, health and environmental management. We know what we have to do, we have seen how we can do it, and together we can do it. I wish everyone an enjoyable and fruitful evening. Thank you.

1 Source: MTI Economic Survey 2013 (