Opening Address by Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad at Safe Hands Campaign 2021 Launch
Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Virtual
Good morning to our tripartite partners, friends and colleagues.
1. This is the second time that the Safe Hands Campaign is being launched virtually. While we are still unable to fully transit back to a physical event, it is heartening to see everyone adapting quickly towards this new normal of hosting virtual events.
Strengthening WSH In the Manufacturing Sector
2. The Safe Hands Campaign is an important outreach event, especially for the manufacturing sector. At its core we aim to raise awareness for how companies put in place safe practices that protect their workers’ hands and fingers when using machinery. Last year in 2020, there were 1,756 injuries due to machinery incidents compared to 2,262 in 2019. While we are glad to see less accidents due to machinery incidents, this 22% reduction is likely due to the circuit breaker and suspension of business activities. Overall, for the manufacturing sector, machinery incidents still account for almost nearly one-third (29%) of all injuries in the sector, so we must continue to press on.
3. Last month in February, 11 workers died from 9 separate workplace accidents, including the explosion in Tuas. Some of these fatalities involved the use of machinery such as forklifts. These tragic accidents provide a stark reminder that if not used properly, machines can lead to needless loss of lives, not just the loss of hands or fingers.
4. Therefore, I strongly urge everyone to conduct a Safety Time-Out if you have not already done so, to take some time out to review your risk assessment, procedures and practices. When the machine is not in use, ensure that it is properly isolated and that the keys are not left unattended. When maintaining the machines, practise Lock Out Tag Out to ensure that it is not accidentally activated.
5. Since the end of circuit breaker, Singapore has resumed almost all its manufacturing activities. Some companies are doing better than others in terms of economic recovery, but I must stress that WSH cannot be taken for granted as every accident and every life lost is one too many. Whether you are trying to catch up with delays in orders or pivoting your operations into new opportunities, WSH ownership must continue to remain a key priority.
Strengthening WSH Ownership
6. Let me elaborate further on strengthening WSH Ownership – one of the key strategies of our WSH 2028 strategy. Ownership starts from the management level. Companies must take proactive measures to provide safeguards to ensure their workers’ safety. These include the installation of machine guards, which prevent machine operators from having their hands and fingers caught in between moving parts, or installing light curtains, which are sensors that can detect if an operator’s hands or fingers get too close to the machine’s moving parts.
7. Installing such control measures is a necessary first step, but companies also need to ensure that these guards are maintained, and in place at all times. This requires enforcement and discipline on the part of the company, to ensure that the guards are not intentionally removed for the sake of convenience. Companies cannot delegate this responsibility to the workers.
8. Rockwell Automation, which has facilities dealing with industrial machines and automation, is one such company that has proactively implemented engineering controls for years. It recognised the need to ensure that the control measures are not accidentally or intentionally circumvented. As a result of their perseverance, Rockwell had 1 machinery accident that resulted in a minor injury in 2020 – an improvement compared to 2007 where they had 7 hand and finger injuries in a single year.
9. Besides engineering controls, companies must also be receptive to feedback and embrace a culture of near-miss reporting. This is another hallmark of taking WSH ownership. When unsafe conditions or lapses occur, employers have to act on them immediately to close the gaps. Workers, together with the unions, should feel empowered to stop unsafe work practices as well as to stop working in unsafe environments.
10. At NatSteel, near miss reporting is ingrained in the company’s culture, and senior management often use these reports as cues to make improvements in safety. Once a near miss is spotted, either by a co-worker or the safety committee who reviews CCTV footage, employees can submit a report via an online system. Workers are encouraged to submit near miss reports, with incentives such as vouchers for the department with the best near miss report. These incentives are also extended to their contractors. Such measures show NatSteel’s dedication to create a culture where everyone shares and contributes in a responsible manner, to improve safety and health at their workplace.
11. Through the examples of Rockwell and Natsteel, we can see that when companies commit themselves to WSH, even by implementing simple measures, it can improve the outcome for their workers.
Enhancing Focus on Workplace Health
12. Next, as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, workplaces have largely focused on protections against infectious diseases through the various Safe Management Measures. However, we also need to focus on Workplace Health – the second strategy of WSH 2028. Besides protection against infectious diseases such as COVID-19, Workplace Health has now been expanded to cover mental well-being, chronic disease as well as the traditional occupational diseases.
13. In recent years, mental health at the workplace has become a growing concern. A study conducted by the Institute of Mental Health between 2016 – 2018 found that 1 in 7 people in Singapore have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 8 people in the same study conducted in 2010. The study cited stress at the workplace as one of the key contributors to the rising number of mental disorder cases.
14. A healthy state of mental well-being can contribute to an overall improvement in productivity. Conversely, a stressful working environment may have real, tangible effects on productivity. Distracted workers who lack focus and concentration may have slower hand-eye coordination and this can lead to potential safety lapses, especially when working around machines.
15. The first step to solving a problem is to identify the problem. Therefore, I encourage all companies to use the iWorkHealth assessment tool developed by MOM’s WSH Institute to identify the dominant workplace stressors their workers face, in order to put the appropriate measures in place. The iWorkHealth tool is free to use and all results are confidential.
16. Similarly, workers with poorly managed chronic diseases face may find difficulty getting rest. Limited energy levels coupled with constant pain make even the simplest tasks draining and tiresome. A worker could even lose consciousness while at work, and this has dire consequences when they are operating machinery. It could result in amputations, or in the worst-case, a workplace fatality.
17. Taking care of our workers’ health is just as important as safety. I highly encourage companies to take part in the Total WSH Programme, which provides a holistic approach for companies to address safety and health risks. Employers can also refer to our recently released tripartite advisory on mental well-being that provides resources on supporting their employees’ mental health.
Promoting Technology-Enabled WSH
18. Lastly on promoting technology-enabled WSH, the final strategy of WSH 2028, I recently visited 3M Innovation Singapore Pte Ltd, where I saw how the company leveraged technology to protect their workers. For instance, 3M uses a Manipulator machine that is capable of complex movements to transport heavy steel cores, which weigh as much as 120 kg, from the rack to another location. The Manipulator machine not only eliminated the risk of workers having their hand or fingers caught between the bars, but also helped to reduce arm and back fatigue. In addition, 3M is able to redeploy their workers to other value-added tasks that can help to increase overall productivity. More examples of such technology can be seen in a video which will be screened shortly.
19. Beyond these strategies and measures, I want to conclude with a reminder that whenever a worker loses his hand or fingers in an accident, there will be pain and suffering. A few years ago, a 28-year-old worker was operating a meat mincer machine when he accidentally dropped some meat into the feeding orifice. He then inserted his hand directly into the orifice in an attempt to remove the meat, but his fingers were caught and his entire left hand was drawn into the machine and crushed. Now each time he looks at his left arm without the hand, it reminds him of that painful accident.
20. Last year, 46 workers unfortunately lost their hands or fingers in amputation accidents, mainly due to the unsafe use of machinery. Such serious injuries bring pain and inconvenience to the worker and his family; and often has a lasting impact on their lives and livelihoods.
21. With proper risk assessment, engineering controls and safety measures in place, such accidents and suffering are preventable. We need to persevere in our efforts to ensure that such incidents do not recur. Last year 560 companies pledged their commitment to Safe Hands, and I hope we will have more companies do so this year. Let us remember to take time to take care of each other’s safety and health. I wish you all a fruitful session ahead. Thank you.