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Opening address at National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign 2021

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Trade Association Hub

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

Industry partners, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

1. Good morning. It is great to be back here once again. Last year, we launched the National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign virtually due to COVID-19, so I am especially glad that we are able to gather physically this year.

WSH - A Collective Responsibility

2. This year’s Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Campaign comes as a timely reminder to the industry, in view of the recent rise in workplace fatalities and injuries, with numbers returning to pre-COVID levels by the end of 2020. Furthermore, this February, there were 11 workplace fatalities, the highest number in a single month in five years. We have made good progress in the past few years, and we have seen fatalities and injuries come down.

3. But the recent alarming trends show that we still have a long way to go. I fully understand that given the COVID situation, there is pressure mounting to complete work on time, and some companies have fewer workers and therefore have to try to cope with current conditions. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that workplace safety and health takes a back seat. It has to be at the top of our minds, and take top priority despite the current conditions. The core message of this year’s WSH Campaign is “Take Time to Take Care”. In particular, we are calling on industries to take greater ownership at every level, from management down to the individual worker. WSH is a collective responsibility, and each and everyone of us must do our part to ensure our workers stay safe and healthy.

• Firstly, employers must be diligent in completing risk assessments and carrying out periodic checks on equipment and work procedures. Make sure your workers are equipped to do their jobs safely by sending them for regular training. Encourage your employees to take time to care for their health as well, by staying hydrated, performing stretching exercises, or taking breaks when required. Fostering a “no-blame” culture at the workplace will also encourage workers to speak up when they see anything amiss. Listen to your employees and take steps to rectify lapses once they are reported.

• Next, workers - as the people on the ground you are most likely to spot safety lapses while at work. Do not be afraid to report unsafe conditions and near-misses to your supervisors. If you see your co-worker working unsafely, you can also speak up and educate them on good safety practices. By doing so, you could save someone else’s or even your own life.

• This is where Workplace Safety & Health Officers can also play a critical role. I know many of you have worked tirelessly to support your organisation’s efforts on the safe resumption of work after the Circuit Breaker, some of you even going above and beyond your call of duty.
- One good example is Mr Allan Low, Senior EHS Manager of Teambuild Engineering & Construction Pte Ltd. Last year, as the construction sector gradually resumed work, he took the initiative to go beyond what was required to ensure the safety and health of his workers.
- The first thing that Allan and his team of WSH officers did was to conduct a full inspection of their worksites, including reviewing safety protocols and checking equipment. That was a practical thing to do because we had new Safe Management Measures in place, and therefore they had to reassess whether these measures would impact risk assessments. All workers were made to go through a refresher training before they were able to start work. Allan also proactively disseminated vital information to key partners and subcontractors on a regular basis to ensure that all stakeholders are kept up to date.
- Allan exemplified what it means to be a Workplace Safety and Health Officer, by taking ownership in making his workplace a safe environment for his fellow workers to return to. I hope that his fellow officers can adopt a similar mindset and further assist your company to create an adaptive and safe work environment.

Slips, Trips and Falls and Machinery Safety are of concern

4. This year, the WSH Campaign will be focusing on two of our perennial hotspots: Machinery Safety, and Slips, Trips and Falls.

5.  In recent years, both have consistently been the top two contributors of non-fatal workplace injuries, accounting for nearly half of all major injuries in 2020. Thus, it is crucial that we continue to raise awareness of these two hotspots, to prevent further injuries.

6. Last week, I accompanied MOM officers on an inspection at a manufacturing company with a focus on machinery safety. We uncovered several lapses there, including poor maintenance of machinery such as forklifts, and lack of traffic management. These safety lapses can lead to serious injuries, or worse, fatalities. MOM has since issued a Stop-Work Order to the company, and we hope that this will send a signal to the rest of the industry to keep watch, keep their workers safe, and look into many of these issues that may not be top of mind, especially during the current COVID situation.

7. In addition, MOM has also observed an emerging issue of more untrained personnel operating machinery. This is extremely dangerous, and has led to multiple accidents and fatalities. This was especially so in February this year, when we had two fatalities. One was a boom operator, one was a forklift driver, and both were untrained. I’m quite sure there could be other incidents out there that may have led to minor injuries like hand injuries or cuts. The WSH Council currently has several training courses on working safely with machines, such as the WSQ: Apply Workplace Safety and Health in Metal Work for workers and the WSQ: Supervise Manufacturing Work for WSH for supervisors. I urge companies to tap on such available resources to properly equip your workers, such that they can operate machinery safely.

8. Moving on to Slips, Trips and Falls, or STF hotspot.  We analysed the 26,000 STF incidents between 2012 and 2019 and found out that six out of ten injured (64%) are cleaners and labourers; this is a significant number. With data today, we can narrow down profiles and have a better understanding of how to parse this issue.    One in five of the injured (20%) were walking before they slipped tripped or fell and the most common location where STF accidents happened are at the stairs or steps. Climbing up the staircase may be something that we do every day, especially for our facilities staff such as cleaners and security officers, but how often will we make it a point to hold onto the handrail while climbing up or down the steps? So, it’s important that we work with WSH Council to see how we can better create awareness among our cleaners, labourers and security officers and reduce these injuries. 

9. Therefore, we need to make the STF risks more apparent to workers so that necessary precautionary behaviours can be taken.  As a start, we are taking steps to gradually introduce mandatory WSH training for selected sectors. The Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners has already announced that all cleaners will need to be trained in WSH from 2022; we hope to have similar requirements extended to other sectors soon.

10. The WSH Council will also be launching its STF campaign in June this year, with the aim of engaging these sectors to promote co-creation of safe workplaces amongst both employers and employees, and better educate them on STF risks and hazards.

Having mental resilience and well-being

11. Finally, this year’s WSH Campaign will also focus on workers’ mental well-being.

12. The proliferation of work-from-home arrangements last year due to COVID-19 has highlighted psychological stressors faced by workers, especially the blurring of work-life boundaries. Building workers’ mental resilience is also an important part of workplace safety and health. Workers must “take time to take care” not just of their physical health, but also their mental well-being.

13. To support this, MOM will continue to assist companies in developing mental well-being support at their workplaces. Companies can look first to the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces, which contains advice and a list of resources employers and employees can tap on. I also highly encourage companies to sign up for iWorkHealth, a digital tool which helps identify areas of stress faced by employees, and how employers can deal with them.The WSH Council will also be developing training workshops and an online resource page to build employers’ and workers’ knowledge on mental health and well-being matters.

14. In addition, we are introducing a tripartite award on mental well-being for companies and individuals next year. Similar to our annual WSH Awards, we hope that by recognising and appreciating companies who have adopted exemplary practices in mental health support, this will further encourage other employers to follow suit. More details on this award will be shared in due course.

Conclusion

15. As our economy gradually recovers from the difficulties of last year, I urge everyone to press on in your WSH endeavours. 2021 will be another challenging year, with labour shortages across industries and a rush for businesses to fulfill contracts. Safety cannot take second place; it must still be top of mind. I fully understand the challenges that businesses are going through, but workers’ safety is still a priority for all of us. So, we cannot use this as an excuse to neglect workplace safety and health. I am confident that through our tripartite efforts, we can enable every worker to “Take Time to Take Care” of their safety and health, and prevent further loss of life or injuries. 

16. I wish all of you a safe and healthy 2021. Thank you.