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Opening Address at Workplace Safety and Health Symposium on Work at Height

Minister of State for Manpower Mr Zaqy Mohamad, ITE College East

Mr John Ng, Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council,

Mr Abu Bakar, Chairman, National Work at Height Safety Taskforce,

Ms Low Khah Gek, CEO, Institute of Technical Education (ITE),

Dr Yek Tew Ming, Principal, ITE College East,

Industry partners,

Ladies and gentlemen.

 

  

  1. Thank you for inviting me today. 

  2. Falls from height (FFH) have been a perennial workplace safety and health (WSH) concern as it is a common cause of fatal injuries at the workplace. This annual event not only reminds all of us here of the dangers of working at height, but is also an important platform to share and explore innovative ideas to improve our WSH outcomes on this front.

    WSH Performance of Work at Height – 10 Years On

  3. In 2009, FFH was the top fatal incident type with 24 cases. To address the concern, the Government and industry partners set up the National Work at Height Safety Taskforce. Since then, the Taskforce had rolled out initiatives such as seminars, courses and guides to raise awareness and train workers on working safely at height. It also provided valuable input to the Ministry of Manpower when we enacted the WSH (Work at Heights) Regulations in 2013. Ten years on, and through the collective effort of all stakeholders, we have significantly reduced the number of FFH to eight cases in 2018. Thank you for your dedication and hard work. 

  4. However, FFH remains as one of the leading causes of injuries. The industries most prone to FFH risks are Construction, followed by Marine and Manufacturing. This year to date, we have four fatal FFH. All of them could have been prevented if adequate control measures were in place. Our stakeholders must continue to sustain the momentum in fall prevention efforts so that we can achieve our target of zero falls.

    MOM’s Enforcement Operation

  5. To help companies manage the risks associated with working at height, MOM mounted a targeted enforcement operation in September this year. Some 250 companies in high risk industries such as Construction, Manufacturing and Marine were inspected in about 300 inspections. A total of 548 enforcement actions were taken, including four Stop-Work Orders and 80 composition fines amounting to $91,000. The top contraventions were the failures to cover or guard open sides or openings, provide safe means of access and egress, and ensure work platforms of scaffolds were provided with toe-boards and sufficient guardrails. 

  6. The findings show that we need to do more to tackle this perennial hotspot. On MOM’s part, we will sustain the momentum of our enforcement operations with a second round of targeted inspections planned in February 2020. But MOM’s efforts alone will not be enough. The industry also needs to take greater responsibility in protecting our workers and be mindful in managing works at height. Let me share three ways on how this could be done.

    Promoting Technology-Enabled WSH 

  7. Increasingly, companies such as Sembcorp Marine are leveraging technology to perform high risk tasks. For example, groups of workers are traditionally deployed at height to wash, de-rust and re-coat the steel surfaces of the ship’s hull using cherry pickers. To eliminate the need for employees to work at height, Sembcorp introduced the Hull Treatment Carrier System which performs washing, blasting and painting tasks on behalf of the operator controlling from the ground. 

  8. To further improve safety of other workers, Sembcorp Marine developed its 3D Robotic Welding Shop. Powered by advanced robotics and software, the system performs automatic vertical welding, eliminating the need for scaffolding and the deployment of workers at height. Besides improving the safety of the work processes, both systems have also helped the company to save costs and manpower and strengthen the sustainability of its operations. 

  9. Similarly, local small and medium enterprises such as CYC International Pte Ltd, a company that offers cleaning services for the oil and gas industry, have also developed innovative solutions to improve WSH performance. Before the company developed its tank cleaning robot, workers had to erect scaffolds and climb up the tanks to clean their side shells. By harnessing technology, CYC International reduced the manpower requirements for the entire operation including the dismantling of scaffolds by over 70% from 15 to 4 workers. The company also reaped $150,000 in cost savings and more than halved the time taken for a project from 3.5 to 1.5 months. Most importantly, this significantly reduced work at height risks and safeguarded the lives of more workers. Good job!

  10. Leveraging technology is one of the three WSH 2028 strategies to help us achieve our goal of a healthy workforce in safe workplaces. Today, the WSH Council has engaged several technology providers who will demonstrate how their solutions can mitigate work at height risks. I urge you to explore and implement some of these technologies at your workplace to safeguard your workers.

    Building WSH Capabilities of Our Workers 

  11. Building our workers’ capabilities plays an important part in improving and sustaining safety outcomes. The ITE has been training our future workers so that they can be better prepared to contribute to the workforce as WSH experts. 

  12. As part of their curriculum, students enrolled in the Engineering and Applied and Health Science courses undergo training programmes to receive certification in areas such as work at height, risk management, and construction, shipyard and oil petrochemical safety. To facilitate training, a Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Assurance Centre was set up at the College West campus. It features classroom and experiential training to provide students with different kinds of learning experiences. To benefit more students, a similar centre has been set up in this campus. I’m heartened to know that close to 4,000 ITE students have been certified in WSH courses to date. Some of them are on industry attachments and may be joining the companies upon graduation. 

  13. Beyond training their students, the ITE also sends its staff for work at height courses so that they can look out for one another’s safety in the workplace. Safety is everyone’s responsibility and more companies should partner their staff in mitigating hazards on the ground. One of the reasons why safety is a huge concern is because every life and every injury is one livelihood gone. Always remember that each worker has a family and is someone’s son, daughter or parent, and people depend on them. So we must always take safety seriously. 

    Enhancing our Focus on Workplace Health

  14. Last but not least, we should not forget the health and well-being of our workers too. With an ageing workforce and longer life expectancies, it is imperative that our workers remain safe and healthy so that they can continue to work effectively and productively. 

  15. Imagine a worker with multiple chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, whose job involves working at height. The consequences could be disastrous if his medical conditions are not well managed and he faints while performing his job. 

  16. Companies who need guidance on managing workers’ health, safety and work holistically can tap on the Total WSH assistance programme launched by the WSH Council and Health Promotion Board recently. Do visit the WSH Council’s exhibition booth later to learn more about how you can implement Total WSH and prevent not just fatalities and injuries but promote workers’ well-being as well. 

    Conclusion

  17. As long as we continue to make concerted efforts to engage and educate stakeholders on work at height risks, I am confident that we will be able to achieve our WSH 2028 goal of reducing and sustaining our fatality rate to below 1.0 per 100,000 workers.

  18. Once again, I would like to thank ITE for hosting this event. I wish you a fruitful Symposium. Let’s continue to keep workplaces safe and healthy. Thank you.

FOOTNOTE

  1. Out of the four FFH fatalities in 2019, two were from Construction, one was from Manufacturing and the last case was from Others.