Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo's Opening Address at the Workplace Safety and Health Conference 2020
1. Good afternoon. I’m happy to join everyone at the Singapore Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Conference 2020. We have more than 1,500 participants at this year’s Conference – the biggest number ever! Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to join us for the next two days.
2. This year’s WSH Conference is different for a number of reasons. First, we are taking it online. Second, it’s organised in partnership with the new Regional Centre for the Future of Work. I will share more on this collaboration later. Third, it is taking place during a global pandemic, one that has given us fresh impetus to press on with the Workplace Safety and Health agenda.
COVID-19 and WSH efforts
3. Let me begin by sharing more on Singapore’s WSH efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it is now more crucial than ever for everyone to step up in the areas of workplace health, technology and ownership.
4. Singapore has made good progress in our WSH journey. Since our inaugural WSH Conference a decade ago, we have halved the workplace fatal injury rate from 2.2 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2010, to 1.1 last year.
a. These are the fruits of labour from the continued commitment of our tripartite partners and stakeholders over the years.
b. It is therefore important that we continue to strive for a Safer and Healthier Workforce.
c. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for us to press on.
5. After the first COVID-19 case was detected in Singapore in late January this year, the Government took decisive actions to tackle the pandemic threat to the community, migrant workers’ dormitories as well as workplaces.
a. We placed significant emphasis on personal hygiene and safe distancing.
b. Unfortunately, like many countries, we needed a partial lockdown – known as a Circuit Breaker - to curb the community spread of COVID-19.
6. As the situation started to stabilise, we prepared for the safe resumption of business activities through the introduction of Safe Management Measures for workplaces.
a. Since the start of Circuit Breaker, we have inspected almost 30,000 workplaces for compliance.
b. Most workplaces did well.
c. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to tripartite partners and many stakeholders who had worked together tirelessly to fight against COVID-19. It is because of your unwavering support and persistence that business activities can continue in a safe and healthy manner.
7. The COVID-19 pandemic will be a long-drawn battle. As we progress into a new normal in the way we live and work, I urge everyone to stay vigilant on this journey.
Renewed focus on workplace health amid COVID-19
8. We have witnessed how a public health crisis can cripple businesses and economies.
a. The impact has caused many businesses to re-think their current approach towards workplace health.
b. With an ageing population, chronic health issues are also expected to rise.
c. As such, companies need to develop capabilities to prevent and manage occupational diseases, chronic diseases, and infectious diseases at the workplace.
9. That is why our WSH Council is taking further action. Today, we promote Total WSH, an initiative that integrates accident prevention with health promotion. As a next step, Total WSH will be infused into existing programmes, such as the enhanced StartSAFE programme.
a. StartSAFE helps SMEs understand risk management and its applications.
b. The programme was recently enhanced to help companies recognise activities where poor health may compromise safety.
c. Companies would then be given recommendations on how these risks can be reduced through control measures or health promotion, and be encouraged to take up activities under the Total WSH programme, for which funding is provided.
10. We will also need a new focus on mental health. Last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a new inter-agency taskforce to tackle the psycho-social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As PM Lee has said at the launch, the pandemic has brought about more “stresses, pressures and disruptions” – and we have seen this especially in the workplace. Therefore, protecting workers’ mental health has become even more important.
11. On behalf of the Ministry of Manpower, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation, I am happy to announce that we will be issuing a new “Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces” today. The Tripartite Advisory sets out practical guidance on measures that employers can adopt to take care of their employees’ mental well-being, and the resources employers and self-employed persons can tap.
12. What does the advisory recommend?
a. First, appoint and train mental wellness champions to organise programmes, talks and workshops on mental wellness.
b. Second, provide training on self-care and equip managers and human resource personnel with skills to be supportive leaders.
c. Third, extend employee flexible benefits to cover mental health related consultations and treatments or provide employees access to employee assistance programmes.
d. Fourth, recognise the need for employees to have adequate rest outside work hours.
13. I would like to thank all the agencies who have contributed their inputs to the Advisory. We strongly urge employers and employees to adopt its recommendations.
Promote technology adoption to advance WSH outcomes
14. Let me turn now to the use of technology to improve WSH. Technology has played a key role in Singapore’s ability to curb the spread of COVID-19. Our national digital check-in system SafeEntry, as well as the TraceTogether app and token, have helped to swiftly identify potential COVID-19 hotspots and facilitate effective contact-tracing.
15. COVID-19 has also made companies more receptive to technology adoption. We have partnered the Infocomm Media Development Authority, Building and Construction Authority, and Enterprise Singapore to incorporate WSH solutions into specific Industry Digital Plans. This is particularly helpful to guide SMEs to adopt WSH technologies as part of their digital transformation journey.
a. An example is the electronic permit-to-work system that was included in the Construction and Facilities Management Industry Digital Pl
i. It enables contractors to digitally submit, track and monitor their permit-to-work applications for high risk activities.
ii. Doing so electronically reduces paperwork and waiting time, increases traceability, and enhances tracking via dashboards and the detection of potential incompatible works.
b. To help SMEs adopt the approved solutions, up to 80% funding support is provided by the Productivity Solutions Grant.
Deepen WSH ownership
16. For our strategies and plans to bear fruit, every one of us needs to personally own WSH and make WSH our way of life. Only by doing so then can we collectively build a culture of care, trust and injury prevention.
17. One good example is Bintai Kindenko.
a. The company has won our WSH Performance Gold Award winner for three consecutive years, including this year (2020).
b. Its management strongly believes that today’s near-misses could become tomorrow’s tragedy, and has thus put in place a near-miss reporting system.
c. During the COVID-19 period, the company took further steps.
d. Safe management measures and WSH practices are promoted daily by not just the WSH department, but from other departments as well, including HR, admin, business development.They conduct meetings every week over Zoom to teach workers best practices in tackling COVID-19.
i. Bintai Kindenko has also developed a "Safe Ownership" app to track all safety communications between the field and the office.
ii. Incident reporting, hazard identification, inspections and meetings are all transmitted electronically and captured for future analysis to avert the risks.
Partnership with Regional Centre for the Future of Work
18. Finally, let me say something about the partnership between the Singapore WSH Conference and the Regional Centre on the Future of Work.
a. In September, I launched the Regional Centre to help each of our societies in ASEAN move forward as one to prepare for the future of work in three focus areas: Workplace safety and health is one, in addition to tripartism and embracing technology.
b. Earlier in November, I had the opportunity to interact with members of our WSH International Advisory Panel to discuss the WSH landscape in a post-COVID world. The clear consensus was that workplace safety and health will be a big priority in the future of work.
c. To help the region prepare for the future of work, the Centre brings together international experts and regional tripartite stakeholders to foster social dialogue, share knowledge, and build capabilities.
d. I invite all of you attending this year’s WSH Conference to contribute to robust discussions and sharing of best practices.This will help to fulfil the Conference and Centre’s shared objectives.
19. While the future remains uncertain as the world continues to battle COVID-19, let us not lose sight of our goals.
a. It is timely for the Government, unions, businesses and workers to come together and collectively chart a future where everyone can bounce back.
b. Each of us has a part to play to review our WSH challenges and opportunities, to have a healthy workforce in safe workplaces.
20. On that note, I wish you a fruitful conference. Thank you!