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Opening Address at Singapore Institution of Safety Officers - Workplace Safety and Health Officers Conference 2019

Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo, Sands Expo and Convention Centre

Mr Melvin Yong, my Parliamentary colleague,
Mr John Ng, Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council,
Mr Seah Liang Bing, Honorary Assistant Secretary, Singapore Institution of Safety Officers (SISO),
Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Professionals,
Friends and colleagues,

1. Good morning. I thank you for inviting me to join you for this conference.  

Importance of WSH Officers

2. From MOM perspective, it is clear to us that being a WSH Officer (WSHO) is a critical and noble job.

a. You are at the front line to protect the well-being of workers. You must be on the ground, mitigating hazards and creating safer workplaces.

b. You must also go beyond what you do at the front line and reach into the boardrooms of organisations to exercise influence on employers so that they see the value of investing in risk management.

c. Your efforts to build a safety culture and advocate for the prevention of harm have contributed greatly to Singapore’s WSH improvements over the years.

d. Yet you are rarely in the limelight and tend to work quietly behind the scenes.

e. My colleagues and I at the MOM know that you are indispensable.

f. We thank you for being our partners in keeping workplaces safe and healthy.

3. You know this better than I – especially the veterans in this room. Since 2007, we have introduced measures to uplift the profession. This was in anticipation of the extension of WSH Act to cover more workplaces, which led to an increased demand for WSHOs:

a. Firstly, the admission criteria for the WSH Professionals Qualifications Framework was expanded to include non-technical diploma holders.

b. Secondly, while we continue to prescribe the workplaces that require WSH Officers, we no longer specify when they must be part-time or full-time.

4. Back then, these moves caused some concerns. Full-time WSHOs worried that they would lose their jobs. Others worried about the competition from the increased supply of WSHOs. These concerns have long subsided as the stature and demand for WSHOs continued to rise.

a. Today, the number of registered WSHOs has more than tripled from 1,300 in 2006 to 4,700 in 2019. This is the number of professionals who still hold valid licenses.

b. More than nine in 10 are locals.

c. Wages have also increased.

d. A senior WSHO who can effectively implement WSH management systems, conduct risk assessments and provide training commands a monthly salary of about $9,000, which is about twice the median salary in Singapore.

e. These positive developments reflect the increasing professionalism that you bring.

5. In the coming years, we expect the number of registered WSHOs to stabilise alongside the economy. It is also timely to shift focus to enhance the skillsets of WSHOs to help them be more effective.

Evolving Roles and Skills of WSH Officers

6. Earlier this year, we launched WSH 2028 plan. This is a ten-year roadmap outlining the strategies for raising Singapore's WSH performance to be not just among the best in the world, but to sustain there as well.

7. The three key strategies are:

a. Strengthening WSH ownership among management and workers;

b. Enhancing the focus on workplace health as a precursor to managing safety issues; and

c. Promoting technology-enabled WSH.

8. In carrying out these strategies, WSHOs are our partners and you are critical to achieving the WSH 2028 goals. These strategies will impact businesses and your work. They will also provide opportunities for you to progress in your careers.

9. Let me suggest three ways in which you can make a bigger difference to your employers and the industry.

10. First, WSHOs can leverage soft skills such as communication, decision-making and leadership to promote greater WSH ownership among employers and workers. You need the power of persuasion.

a. All of you are equipped with technical expertise on developing safety systems and implementing risk-mitigating measures.

b. But for your programmes to work, you need employers to allocate resources to implement your ideas. You also need partners among the workers so that they can champion safety practices on the ground.

c. Combining your soft skills with your domain knowledge will help you to foster a robust culture of care, trust and prevention more easily across all levels – from the frontline to the boardrooms.

11. With an ageing workforce and longer life expectancies, we will need strong advocates for improving health at the workplace. This will help your co-workers stay employable, productive and safe at work for as long as they wish to.

a. To nurture a culture of care, you can first help workers to detect, monitor and manage their personal health conditions.

b. This can be done by making simple Total WSH interventions such as regular health screenings and job rotations.

12. Total WSH is important as workers may not be aware that they have conditions that are chronic in nature.

a. In a recent Total WSH intervention with a construction company, only 8% of the workers surveyed reported that they suffered from hypertension.

b. To the company’s surprise, after the health screening was conducted, the actual number of workers who had hypertension was actually 38% - almost five times more.

c. The workers themselves did not seem aware of their health conditions. It was the company’s health screening that brought this to their attention.

d. Such lack of self-awareness of medical conditions is common and worrying, as what goes undetected gets unmanaged and untreated. This can, at some point in time, lead to serious accidents at work.

e. As WSHOs, you can play a preventive role in keeping workers healthy and safe by stepping up on workplace health promotion initiatives.

f. An easy way to start is by engaging any of the four Total WSH service providers appointed by MOM to provide both safety consultancy, as well as health screening and coaching services.

13. We see a lot of potential for you to build safer workplaces by incorporating technology into work processes or training.

a. Let me share with you how this can be done.

b. Ms Sarah Ho is the WSHO for C&W Services Singapore. She worked with its management to use technology to transform operations and boost workplace safety.

c. Sarah and her team used drones to conduct roof inspections to eliminate working at height risks and at the same time, develop her co-workers by equipping them with drone management skills.

d. To encourage fellow workers to take ownership of workplace safety, her team also developed a safety app.

e. Apart from making it easier to report near misses, the app also enables workers to learn on the go. It even tracks attendance during fire drills and emergencies!

f. Sarah’s efforts to transform processes with technology are commendable.

g. I urge you to explore similar opportunities at your workplaces. By doing so, you can potentially extend your reach beyond Singapore’s shore with more highly sought after skills

New Skills Framework For WSH

14. Given the vital role of WSHOs in helping to achieve our WSH 2028 outcomes, the Government will continue to facilitate your career growth and development.

15. I am happy to announce that the SkillsFuture Singapore, WSH Council, Workforce Singapore and SISO have developed a new Skills Framework for WSH.

16. With the Framework, you can better plan and make more informed decisions about career development.

17. Let me share two examples to illustrate.

18. Muhamad Ithnin is a Health, Safety, Security & Environmental Coordinator at Mighty Engineering and Construction Pte Ltd.

a. Ithnin is 37 years old and has just recently completed his specialist diploma at SISO.

b. Previously, he was unsure of how he could progress in his career.

c. Now, he can refer to the Skills Framework and identify the new skills that he needs to advance at every stage of his career as a WSHO.

d. For example, essential skills at the WSH Manager level include project coordination, stakeholder management and resource management skills.

e. Ithnin is very excited by the opportunities.

19. Another example is Mr Howard How, a 61-year-old WSH Director at Boustead Projects E&C Pte Ltd. He started as a WSHO and worked his way up the ranks.

a. In the past, one has to pass a specialist diploma course known as the Safety Officer Training Course in order to become a Safety Officer – this is the predecessor of WSHOs.

b. As a pioneer batch graduate from the course, Howard learnt many useful and important WSH topics but once he started practising as a WSHO, he had to figure out the next steps on his own.

20. Howard can certainly attest that the experience for newer entrants like Ithnin will be much better because of the Skills Framework. But even for seasoned professionals like himself, the Skills Framework lists new competencies to boost his career further, such as digitalisation and technology application that are relevant now and in the future.

21. Companies too can benefit, in terms of competency-based recruitment and more effective training plans.

SISO's Career Progression Pathway

22. We can therefore use the Skills Framework to professionalise the job of WSHOs.

23. I am pleased to learn that SISO has aligned its Career Progression Pathway to help members better identify the competencies and training needed to advance in your careers.

Conclusion

24. In conclusion, with the launch of the WSH 2028 strategies, there are exciting opportunities for WSHOs.

25. More importantly, even as you grow professionally, you can help make workplaces safer and healthier for fellow Singaporeans.

26. I wish you much success and satisfaction in these endeavours.