Speech at SCAL-SISO 'Total Workplace Safety and Health for Future of Construction' Conference 2018
Mr Zaqy Mohamad Minister of State for Manpower, Stephen Riady Auditorium @ NTUC
Mr Kenneth Loo, President, Singapore Contractors Association Limited
Mr Bernard Soh, President, Singapore Institution of Safety Officers
Mr Patrick Tay, Assistant Secretary General, NTUC
Distinguished Speakers and Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
- Thank you for inviting me to join your inaugural conference on Total Workplace Safety and Health. I am heartened to see so many delegates here today, who are committed to ideate and mould the future of construction.
- While we think about how the industry can evolve to be more productive and efficient, it is important that we do not lose sight of the safety and health aspects of our workers. As such, the focus on technology and Total Workplace Safety and Health at today’s conference is encouraging.
On the technology front, the government is pushing for a wider adoption of Design for Manufacturing & Assembly (DfMA), under the Construction Industry Transformation Map. DfMA moves as much on-site construction activities as possible to off-site factory production, where the working environment is more controlled and conducive. This can significantly enhance on-site construction safety and health.
There are other technological advances too that can help improve workplace safety and health, such as the use of data or video analytics, sensors and IOT (Internet of Things) to monitor and send alerts when things are not in place. Some technologies are more mature and readily deployable, while others are still at an exploratory stage. Whichever stage it is in, I would like to urge the construction industry to continue to explore and leverage on technology to improve both productivity as well as workplace safety and health.
In the area of Total WSH, this is a holistic and integrated approach for companies to manage the interaction between work, safety and health. Traditionally, the health portion in WSH was viewed as how hazardous substances used or found at the workplace can adversely affect the health of the worker. While this is still important, we now need to also recognize that the poor health of a worker can potentially affect the safety outcome at the workplace. For example, if a crane operator suffered a heart attack in the middle of a lifting operation, the consequences can be disastrous. This is why we need to pay attention to the health of our worker as it is interconnected with safety and work. A healthy worker will be more productive and more likely to work safely.
Today, many of us wear a fitness or activity tracker on our wrist to provide an indication of our heart rate, number of steps taken and so forth. Imagine a future where our workers are also fitted with such wearables that allow the contractors to monitor their health status, how long they have worked on site and even their physical location within the worksite. Just three days ago, we announced the results from the WSH Technology Challenge on vehicular safety, and one of the proposals included a wearable that helps detect fatigue in drivers. With the advance technology today, this is already possible. We just need to try.
- The collective experience of construction industry representatives from SCAL and safety officers from SISO here today presents a prime opportunity to explore and tap on technology to further improve workplace safety and health outcomes for the industry. I look forward to seeing how today’s sharing of ideas can translate into safer worksites and healthier workforce tomorrow.
Current workplace safety and health landscape
- Having painted the exciting possibilities of the future landscape, let me turn my attention to the current challenges. As many of you may have read or seen in the news, there has been a spate of workplace fatalities recently. In just the last week, five people have died from tragic workplace accidents. I would like to express my deepest condolences to the families of the workers who have lost their lives. I am sad to say that this year, so far, 19 workers have lost their lives in workplace accidents.
- This sudden spate of fatalities is very worrying, and while they did not all occur in the construction sector, they should serve as a wake-up call for all employers, supervisors and workers. They are solemn and timely reminders to all of us, that we should never be complacent and let our guards down when it comes to safety and health in our workplaces. If we do, our workers – who are mothers, fathers, daughters and sons – and their families are the ones who pay the price. It is crucial that we step up our efforts now to ensure these tragic incidents do not happen.
Workplace safety and health is everyone’s responsibility
- Some have labelled the recent accidents as “freak” accidents, but I say we should not accept such labels because we believe that all accidents are preventable. Everyone has a part to play in ensuring safety and health at work. Employers are to assess the risks involved in the work and take the necessary control measures. Workers should cooperate and abide by the established safe work procedures and not take shortcuts. Supervisors play a role in checking and monitoring that the workplace and work processes do not put the workers at risks.
- Everyone within the workplace needs to take some ownership of workplace safety and health. Taking ownership in workplace safety and health is not just about instituting and following rules or procedures. At the fundamental level, it means exercising care and concern for our fellow workers and looking out for each other’s wellbeing. If we have a culture of care and trust, I am certain we will see marked improvements in our workplace safety and health outcomes.
- On our part, the Ministry of Manpower will continue to step up efforts in areas when needed. For example, last month, I announced the commencement of an enforcement operation in the construction sector, in response to the increase in the number of construction fatal and major injuries. To date, we have completed 330 inspections of our target of 500, and have issued four Stop-Work Orders and 78 composition fines amounting to $86,000. The top contraventions found include failing to cover or guard open sides or openings, failing to ensure that means of access were clear of obstructions or tripping hazards, and failing to ensure that scaffolding platforms were constructed with toe-boards and two or more guard rails. These numbers are evidence that construction companies can still do more to improve safety and health standards within their worksites. The MOM will be extending this enforcement operation to cover an additional 250 inspections from July to August this year.
- Another sector that has drawn our attention is the commercial diving industry. There were two commercial diving fatalities in just the last two months. In contrast, there was just one such incident in the three-year period from 2014 to 2017.
- Compared to land-based workers, commercial divers have an added risk dimension simply because of the underwater environment they are subjected to. Over the years we have developed standards, built capabilities and stepped up engagement with commercial diving companies. We will continue to do so. We will meet the commercial diving fraternity in August to share our areas of concern that they should be paying attention to. It will also be useful to hear feedback and challenges they face while working during the engagement. Through such engagements and collaborations, we hope to raise the industry capability further to prevent tragic loss of lives.
Collective effort amongst stakeholders key to improving workplace safety and health
- The efforts of my Ministry alone will not be enough to arrest the number of workplace fatalities, injuries and ill-health. We would require the collective effort of all stakeholders – such as the unions, industry associations, and workplace safety and health organisations – to influence and improve the workplace safety and health landscape in Singapore.
- This is why I am pleased to see collaborations such as today’s Conference. I would like to commend the Singapore Contractors Association Limited and the Singapore Institution of Safety Officers for taking the proactive step to organise today’s conference and discuss how we can make construction worksites safer and healthier for our workers.
- I also hope to see more of such collaborations and efforts from our stakeholders in the future, not just within the construction industry, but in all industries.
Time to step up our collective efforts
- As we step into the second half of the year, we want to arrest the accident trend and not allow it to continue. To do so, we must all be committed to improving our safety and health standards and practices in our workplaces. We must remain vigilant and not let our guards down. Only then will we be able to ensure that our workers return home safe and healthy every day.
- I wish all of you a fruitful conference, and a safer and healthier year at work.