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Speech at National WSH Campaign 2016

Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower, Gardens By The Bay East

Mr Sam Tan, MOS for Manpower
Mr Heng Chiang Gnee, Chairman, WSH Council
Ms Mary Liew, President, NTUC
Dr Lim Suet Wun, Honorary Secretary SNEF
Partners & Friends

  1. Good morning. Thank you for joining us this morning at the annual national campaign on Workplace Safety and Health (WSH). Under WSH 2018 launched in 2009, our target is to reduce fatality rate to 1.8 per 100,000 workers by 2018.
  2. So when we first launched the Vision Zero movement last year, some wondered: Is zero fatality our new target? The answer is no. Some wondered: Is it really possible for any nation to achieve zero workplace injury? The answer is probably not. 
  3. Vision Zero is not a new target, but a new mindset - that all injuries and ill health can be prevented. We must embrace this new mindset of Vision Zero as widely and deeply as possible across all industries, enterprises and individual workers. All of us need to do our best so that everyone can go home safe and healthy. 
  4. The question is: Are we all doing our best today? Unfortunately, the answer is NO. We have made some good progress, but our efforts so far are not good enough. We are not even half way through 2016, yet already 26 workers have lost their lives. This is 8 more than the same period last year1, an increase of 40%!
  5. Every death is one too many because a death at work means the loss of a loved one at home. A chemist died in a lab explosion last October. Her 6-month-old daughter will have to grow up without the care and love of her mother. This should not have happened. Two young SMRT staff lost their lives last month while undergoing on-the-job training. Their future was taken away from them. Their pre-mature departure has brought much grief to their families, colleagues and friends. Again, this should not have happened. 
  6. What is even more alarming is that the situation did not improve since then. Eight more lives were lost, in the last three weeks. We really have to improve. We must do better.
  7. At MOM, we have stepped up inspection and enforcement. We are taking tough actions against employers who disregard the safety of their workers. However, the fear of prosecution and penalties should not be the main driving force towards Vision Zero. Employers must want to do their best not because of a fear of enforcement by MOM, but because preventing all injuries is the right thing to do, and the responsible way of running their business. 
  8. At the company level, Vision Zero starts with management making the commitment and taking the responsibility to ensure no harm comes to your workers. As management, you should strengthen the WSH culture in your organization, and implement WSH management systems to protect, promote and monitor safety and health. You should also communicate your WSH goal to your staff, contractors and subcontractors so that everyone is clear and comply with the same high WSH standards.
  9. This is exactly what companies such as Jacobs and ExxonMobil have done. Jacobs’ goal is to take safety BeyondZero® by preventing any accident from happening, and putting the personal health and safety of their employees first. At Jacobs, safety is more than policies and procedures, but a genuine culture of caring. All employees play an active role in the safety of those around them. They are encouraged to intervene whenever they observe unsafe acts and conditions. ExxonMobil has a comprehensive safety programme in place at its integrated refinery and chemical complex. Employees are expected to develop a personal safety plan to foster greater safety ownership and drive the company towards its vision of ‘Nobody gets hurt’. ExxonMobil also has a Buddy Manager programme in place. Field managers provide oversight and support to the contractors and subcontractors to ensure that work activities are carried out in accordance with ExxonMobil’s high safety standards. Imagine, if all companies in Singapore strive towards Vision Zero in the same way as Jacobs and ExxonMobil, then, we can hope to establish a pervasive WSH culture of Vision Zero nationwide.
  10. Workers must play their part too. In a poll of 1,000 Singaporeans conducted by the Ministry of Manpower last August, 8 out of 10 working respondents agreed that all injures and ill health at work can be prevented. 8 out of 10 is a good starting point, and more should be done. We can all be more aware of how our actions can affect other people around us, from helping to keep the workplace clean and dry, to alerting a fellow worker on a ladder from leaning too far out. 
  11. On this journey of Vision Zero, we face three growing challenges. First, with an ageing population and longer life expectancy, chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension will become more prevalent. We need to do more to help our matured and senior workers remain safe and healthy at work.
  12. Second, as we transform to become a more manpower lean, productive and innovative economy, we will have to pay greater attention to ergonomic risks, human factors and psychosocial stress. We need to formulate targeted intervention programmes to tackle these growing occupational diseases. 
  13. Third, with the introduction of new work processes and the adoption of new technology at the workplace, new safety and health risks may emerge. Robotics and automation, nanotechnology and the increased use of mobile devices may pose new hazards to workers. We need to understand better the potential risks of safety and health and develop appropriate mitigating measures. Hence, as we continue to pursue our target in WSH 2018, we also need to strive for some fundamental shifts in our mindset and strategy over a longer timeframe, going beyond WSH 2018.
  14. The WSH Council deliberated and decided that it is now timely for us to update our National WSH Strategy – to be called WSH2025. It will be developed in collaboration with our industry stakeholders, including the unions and management. Over the next few months, MOM and the WSH Council will be organising a series of engagement sessions to obtain views and feedback on how we can achieve the next quantum leap in WSH outcomes. 
  15. I look forward to your continued support and contributions. Let us move forward together on this journey of Vision Zero. Prevent all injuries so that all our workers can go home safe and healthy. 

    1From 1 January 2016 to 16 April 2016, there were 26 workplace fatalities as compared to 18 workplace fatalities in the same period in 2015.