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Speech at National Workplace Safety and Health Conference 2016

Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower, Suntec Singapore

Mr Sam Tan, Minister of State, Prime Minister Office & Ministry of Manpower,

Mr Heng Chiang Gnee, Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council,

Members of the MOM International Advisory Panel for Workplace Safety and Health,

Distinguished speakers, moderators and delegates of The Singapore WSH Conference 2016,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. Welcome to The Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Conference 2016. 

    Progress in Singapore’s WSH Journey

  2. In 2004, our workplace fatality rate was 4.9 per 100,000 employed persons. We wanted to do better. We launched WSH 2015 with a target to halve it to 2.5 by 2015. We introduced the WSH Act to reduce risks in the high-risk sectors. We also formed the WSH Council to raise awareness and build WSH capability. With the support of our tripartite partners, the workplace fatality rate dropped to 2.8 in just 4 years. 
  3. In 2008, we challenged ourselves to bring the fatality rate further to 1.8 by 2018 to be on par with developed countries’ standards, such as Australia and Japan. We built on the success of WSH 2015 and launched WSH 2018. The WSH Act was extended to cover all sectors, not just the high risk ones. We developed sectoral roadmaps and a Pledge for Zero programme for the construction and marine sectors. We recognised that sustained improvements in WSH could only happen through a change in culture, a change in mindset. So we launched the CultureSAFE programme. The WSH Institute was also set up to provide evidence-based research to address the various challenges in furthering WSH.
  4. Our collective effort brought the workplace fatality rate from 2.8 in 2008 to 1.8 in 2014, 4 years ahead of schedule. We seemed to be on the right track. However, our improvement in performance was not sustained. The fatality rate went up from 1.8 to 1.9 last year. So far this year, 48 lives have been lost. The fatality rate may hit 2.2 this year! 
  5. The question is: Are we seeing a change in the trend of WSH fatalities in Singapore? In May, MOS Sam Tan visited our counterparts in the UK and Germany. They shared that on this Vision Zero journey, there could be fluctuations in the fatality rate. They encouraged us not to be discouraged and instead, we should persevere. We have achieved 1.8 in 2014. No reason why we cannot bring it back down to 1.8 again by 2018 and hopefully before that, and strive to do even better beyond that. 
  6. We are determined to do better in at least three areas. First, fatality in the construction sector must come down. It accounted for 19 deaths or 40% of total workplace fatalities this year. 7 in 10 of the fatalities could be attributed to lapses in planning and execution of work activities. 9 in 10 cases happened because workers adopted the wrong or unsafe behaviour. Some construction companies have also accepted WSH infringements as unavoidable. They even set aside “safety budgets” to cover the enforcement fines. Clearly, we need to do more and do better to strengthen WSH ownership across all levels in the construction sector – the employers, the supervisors and the workers.
  7. Secondly, workers’ health as a contributing factor to workplace fatalities. In the last 3 years, one-third of all work-related fatality cases involved workers with existing medical conditions such as heart disease and hypertension. These conditions were aggravated by their work activities, resulting in workplace incidents. 
  8. Thirdly, workplace incidents involving workers aged 55 and older has been going up by about two percentage points a year in recent years. It now accounts for 18% of all incidents in the 1st six months of this year. In January 2016, an elderly cleaner was sweeping dry leaves behind a planter wall when he lost his balance and fell. He subsequently passed away from his injuries. This could have been prevented if the job was re-designed to take into consideration his physical abilities. 

    WSH 2018 Plus

  9. To get back on track, towards our target set for 2018, while laying a firmer foundation to sustain improvement for the future, we have identified 3 priorities. One, improve workplace safety standards in the construction sector. Two, strengthen workplace safety and health competency in our workforce. Three, build collective WSH ownership. We call this the WSH 2018 Plus plan.

    Improving WSH Performance in the Construction Sector 

  10. First, there is much more we can do to improve workplace safety in construction. Please remember: If risks are eliminated earlier, the chance of accidents happening during construction drops significantly. Companies should take greater ownership by identifying workplace safety and health risks upstream, setting performance targets and encouraging reporting of any workplace safety and health incidents, however minor it may be. The Government can likewise support and encourage this by incorporating more safety considerations into public construction tenders. This will spur private developers to do the same and raise WSH ownership across the construction sector. 

    Strengthening WSH Competency

  11. Second, we need to develop a workforce competent in managing workplace safety and health. Our analysis showed that workers with less than 1 year experience are almost twice more likely to be involved in fatal incidents. The introduction of new technology and construction methods also means that WSH risks are now more complex to tackle. We will work with the industry to professionalise the WSH Officers and develop a career progression pathway to attract and retain better talents. At the same time, we will enhance our training curriculum and facilities to simulate real-life working conditions using virtual simulators. Trainees would then have better exposure to perform high risk activities in a safe classroom environment before they step out to perform actual operations in the real world.

    Building Collective WSH Ownership

  12. Lastly, we need to build a collective WSH ownership. This means inculcating a progressive and pervasive culture in WSH. Safety is not just about keeping oneself safe. More often than not, accidents are not caused by the victims themselves but by the people around them. Therefore, everyone has to work safely together, from government, to unions, companies, management, supervisors and workers. Collective WSH ownership means everyone has to embrace the same mindset of not just reducing workplace fatalities, but preventing ALL work-related injuries and ill-health too. Why? Because a minor accident today, if not prevented, can lead to a major accident, a Dangerous Occurrence or even a fatal accident tomorrow. 
  13. With WSH 2018 Plus, it is not just about safety, but also about health. 

    Laying the foundation for the future – Total WSH

  14. Our workforce is ageing fast. To lay a stronger foundation for sustained improvement in workplace safety and health, we need to adopt a Total WSH approach by placing equal emphasis on both safety and health. Today, we will be launching the Total WSH starter kit. It comprises educational materials such as videos for employers and their workers, and a guidebook detailing how to embark on Total WSH. We hope more companies will make use of these resources and start their Total WSH journey. 


  15. Vision Zero is a journey with no end. We have come a long way but there is still a lot more work to be done. As the Chinese saying goes, 逆水行舟 不进则退. Run fast just to stand still is not good enough. We want to run faster so as to move ahead, to make our workplaces of tomorrow safer and healthier than today, for all workers and our people. This Conference is a timely platform for us to take stock, exchange ideas and experiences on Total WSH. We can all learn together, and improve together. With new insights gained from the Conference, we can all be better prepared to make sure that every one of our workers go home safely and healthily every day.
  16. I wish you a productive and fruitful conference.