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Keynote Address at NTUC U Safe Forum and Awards 2019

Minister of State for Manpower Mr Zaqy Mohamad , Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability

Brother Ong Hwee Liang, Vice President of NTUC Central Committee;

Brother John Ng, Chairman of WSH Council;

Brother Desmond Choo, Assistant Secretary-General, NTUC;

Sisters and brothers from the Labour Movement;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen,

  

  1. Good afternoon. I am pleased to join you for the 2nd U Safe Forum and Awards organised by the National Trades Union Congress. Some 500 participants from the labour movement (LM) network are here today to show our tripartite commitment in providing safer and healthier working conditions for our workers. 

    Importance of Strong Tripartite Cooperation

  2. The strong tripartite cooperation between the Government, unions and employers has brought about significant workplace safety and health (WSH) improvements for Singapore. As our key advocates, leaders from the LM have been instrumental in garnering support from our employers and workers for our national WSH initiatives. Our fatality rate fell from 4.9 per 100,000 workers in 2004 to 1.2 in 2017 and 2018. 

  3. However, our non-fatal injuries have not improved as much as the fatality rate. In fact the number of non-fatal workplace injuries increased by eight percent from 6,073 cases in 1H 2018 to 6,561 cases in 1H 2019. I believe that the LM can play a key preventive role in further reducing work accidents. When accidents happen, workers’ lives and their families’ livelihood are affected. That is why safety is paramount and why all of us should make sure our Brothers and Sisters who are making a livelihood for their families, are well protected. 

  4. Earlier this year, MOM accepted the WSH 2028 strategies by the Tripartite Strategies Committee which the unions played a key role in shaping it. Following the launch of the WSH 2028, I am glad that unions have been working with employers and workers to increase the adoption of progressive WSH practices and enhance risk management capabilities. Allow me to elaborate more.

    Unions’ Efforts – Engendering Greater Ownership

  5. First, the NTUC has been our long-time partner in rallying employers, workers and union leaders to take greater WSH ownership.

  6. One example is how NTUC, through the WSH Secretariat, has been advocating for companies to kickstart their BizSAFE journeys. Under the programme, companies go through a tiered framework to certify the robustness of their risk management systems and recommend ways for further improvement. 

  7. Today, more than 50% of unionised companies have achieved at least BizSAFE Level 3 and have implemented effective risk management plans in place. I hope to see more companies, whether unionised or not, come onboard the BizSAFE programme to strengthen their WSH capabilities.

  8. Companies can also work with the unions to leverage on the Company Training Committees (CTCs) to identify training gaps and equip staff with useful safety knowledge. For example, the Chemical Industries Employees' Union and Arlanxeo Singapore Pte Ltd, a world-leading synthetic rubber manufacturer, leveraged on their CTC to hone its workers’ technical competencies. A group of 20 engineers and managers were identified and trained to perform failure mode and effects analysis. With that competency gained, these workers are now more aware of and can identify risks within work processes. They can then improve operating procedures to minimise such risks, making work processes safer for their fellow colleagues. I look forward to the formation of more CTCs which the NTUC is promoting to provide safer working environments while developing our workers professionally.

  9. Besides strengthening the capabilities of employers and workers, unions are also upskilling their leaders and industrial relations officers in risk management to deepen their competencies in injury prevention. 

  10. The Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute, supported by the WSH Council, have jointly introduced a training programme to train union leaders and industrial relations officers (IROs) in identifying hazards, assessing risks and putting in place control measures. I’m pleased to share that there are 290 union leaders and industrial relations officers that have been trained to better support companies’ management in developing WSH solutions. The NTUC’s goal is to provide WSH-related training to 1,000 union leaders and IROs by March 2021. This is laudable and I encourage the unions to sustain that momentum in the years ahead. 

    LM U Safe Awards 

  11. Today, we celebrate the achievements of the 11 Unions, Unionised Companies and U SME Partners who have been key in safeguarding the lives of our workers. Let me share the commendable efforts of three winners who have exemplified the spirit of WSH 2028. 

  12. First, Fong’s Engineering and Manufacturing Pte Ltd, a unionised company under Metal Industries Workers Union, has leaders who take WSH ownership seriously. The company is a manufacturer of medical devices and a winner of the U SAFE U SME Partner Award. It has adopted the 6S system, an industry-known methodology to promote efficient and safe work processes through lean management. The management actively reviews its work processes and engages its workforce regularly to address any safety concerns. When workers know that the company prioritises the safety of workers, they will be further motivated to give their best at work. This is a win-win situation for the company. Well done!

  13. Next is a recipient of the LM U Safe Advocate Award, the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU), which has been enhancing workers’ health through progressive work practices. BATU supported the adoption of Total WSH, an integrated approach to help companies manage safety, health and well-being of workers holistically. Today, nine of its unionised companies are implementing Total WSH as part of their WSH efforts. Apart from promoting workers’ health, BATU also partnered the NTUC U Care Centre and WSH Council to educate 3,000 outsourced cleaners in schools on safety issues since 2012. Their efforts include sharing tips for preventing slips, trips and falls – the top cause of major and minor injuries, and a common hazard in the cleaning industry. Congratulations to BATU!

  14. Lastly, I would also like to commend the Public Utilities Board (PUB), Singapore’s National Water Agency, a unionised organisation that has won the LM U Safe Champion Award for leveraging technology to improve WSH outcomes. PUB operates and maintains the public sewerage system in Singapore. Part of its work includes the regular inspection of approximately 90,000 manholes islandwide. Such inspections used to require a worker to enter the manhole, which is a confined space with ergonomic and entrapment hazards. To reduce risks to workers, PUB now uses CCTVs to conduct the inspections in a safer and more efficient manner. Manhole inspection done with CCTVs will largely eliminate the need for workers to enter confined spaces. PUB is also piloting the use of borescopes, which can inspect manholes without even opening the manhole covers. Let’s give PUB a round of applause.

    Conclusion

  15. These are wonderful efforts which I hope more companies, workers and union leaders can recommend to their management or other companies to take up to motivate employees and bring about more efficient operations. In closing, we are fortunate to have an excellent partner in the LM to push our WSH agenda. I encourage the unions to continue championing progressive WSH practices among employers. This can take the form of adopting systematic reporting of near misses, empowering workers to stop work when they detect risky situations, and appointing WSH representatives to identify and mitigate risks. Strong union activism on WSH will create even safer and healthier workplaces for our Brothers and Sisters. Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all the recipients of the LM U Safe Awards 2019.  I wish you a fruitful forum ahead. Thank you.