Opening Address at bizSAFE Convention 2021
Senior Minister of State for Manpower Mr Zaqy Mohamad , Virtual
Mr John Ng, Chairman of the Workplace Safety and Health Council,
Members of the Workplace Safety and Health Council,
Ladies and gentlemen.
1. Good afternoon. I am pleased to join all of you for this year’s bizSAFE convention! I am heartened by the strong support from the WSH community with over 1,400 participants attending today, even though we are doing this virtually. This is a testament to the commitment all of you have made in building capabilities for workplace safety and health (WSH).
Addressing Recent Spate of Fatal Workplace Accidents
2. It is your efforts and commitment that have helped us make good progress towards achieving our WSH2028 goals. In the past few years, workplace fatalities and injuries have been on a steady decline – with our workplace fatal injury rate last year dropping to 0.9 per 100,000 workers. However, our work is far from done. The result last year was due in part to work stoppages. We are seeing workplace injury numbers on the rise again, including a spate of fatal workplace accidents in February and in June this year. This is a very alarming trend that needs to be addressed.
3. The tragic loss of nine lives in just a few weeks from May to June was most disappointing. These accidents occurred across various industries, such as Construction, Manufacturing, and Transport and Storage. The most worrying and disturbing aspect is that many of these were caused by very basic safety lapses that could have been avoided.
• going into confined space without first doing a gas check,
• reversing a vehicle without checking if anyone is behind,
• entering water without a life vest, and
• working at height without securing a lanyard.
4. I think many of us know that these are very fundamental things that we typically take into account when we are working on our worksites. Companies with proper risk management systems would know that these lapses should not have happened.
5. In response, last week the WSH Council, together with six trade associations, called for a Safety Time-Out, or STO in short. Industry associations in the Construction, Marine, Process Engineering, Manufacturing, and Transport and Logistics industries have called on over 10,700 of their members to take time out to review their safety controls and work methods, among other measures. The National Trades Union Congress is supportive of the call and will be encouraging their unions to support their unionised companies to do so. For instance, the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union has already called upon its unionised companies to heed the STO call through its President’s recent Facebook posting.
6. I strongly urge all companies, even those not in high-risk industries, to answer this call to prevent further workplace injuries and fatalities. As you conduct the STO, take the time to review your existing control measures. Management should engage their staff to personally emphasise that they should adopt safe work procedures. Share about the recent accidents with your workers and remind them of the recommendations.You may find these outlined in the WSH Council’s website. Safer working conditions can only be achieved when both employers and employees take ownership of their own workplace safety and health. I am very heartened that both the industry associations and unions are supporting this move. Let’s work together to strengthen our measures to prevent accidents.
Evolving WSH Training
7. It is important for our workers to be adequately equipped to understand the importance of safety and adopting safe work procedures. Mandatory courses, like the Safety Orientation Courses, can help to provide them with a strong foundation in WSH.
8. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many of us work and train. For the safety and convenience of our workers, we have worked with the WSH training providers to pivot towards online learning. We will start with worker-level WSH courses before progressing to supervisor and management-level courses. However, for some of the more equipment or machine-based courses, we will need to retain the hands-on training so as to maintain realism and ensure operator proficiency.
9. From 1 August 2021 onwards, employers will have the option of enrolling their workers in online Safety Orientation Course training and assessment, for existing workers doing re-certification. This will make it more convenient for employers. They will not have to coordinate transport arrangements to and from training centres. This will also reduce transmission risks at training venues. More details on online training options for other WSH courses will be announced later.
10. Training workers is just the first step towards improving workplace safety and health. Senior management must also do their part by implementing a sound risk management system. This is where the bizSAFE programme can play a key role.
11. Through the five levels of the bizSAFE programme, companies can learn how to develop a WSH Policy and a risk management implementation plan. Employers will also be able to assess the effectiveness of their plan through a MOM-Approved WSH AuditorThis ensures compliance with the requirements in the WSH Act and its subsidiary legislations.
12. The bizSAFE Risk Management audit checklist has also been enhanced and implemented since 1 Jan 2021. New requirements have been included to address seasonal hotspots including Safe Management Measures, Slips, Trips and Falls, Vehicular Safety Technology, Machinery Safety and Work at Height. These requirements will be reviewed and updated regularly according to the changing landscape and conditions.
13. I hope that these measures will heighten employers’ and employees’ awareness of the importance of risk management, and help all of us take steps towards reducing accidents at the workplace.
Supporting Mental Well-being
14. I’ve covered workplace safety at length. Let me to turn our attention to the second part of WSH – workplace health. This year’s bizSAFE Convention’s theme is “A Healthier You is a Safer You”.
We can look forward to our speakers and panelists later who will touch on implementing risk management well amidst the current pandemic, including management of our workers’ health.
15. Ill-health may be less visible than physical injuries, but it is no less harmful. It is not just about being healthy against Covid-19, but maintaining good mental health, which has come under strain due to Covid-19. We know that we are going through a period where anxiety and stress from financial uncertainty, social isolation, or blurring of work-life boundaries, is taking a toll on the mental well-being of many.
16. We have to help each other cope better by looking out for one another. Employers have a big role to play in this, by creating a supportive workplace where your employees know that “it’s ok to not be ok”. More importantly, be encouraging and supportive, and assure them that there are many support avenues for them to tap on.
17. One good example is the construction and engineering company Ed Zublin AG, a bizSAFE Star Enterprise that won the bizSAFE Partner Award in 2019 and 2020. Ed Zublin has taken the lead to implement the ABC system, which stands for Awareness, Buddy System and Care and Helplines, to support the mental well-being of its migrant workers.
18. Ed Zublin constantly communicates with its workers on how they can look out for warning signs of mental distress, so that the company can intervene early to help. The Buddy System pairs workers of similar language and cultural background to lend support to one another in times of need. There is also a Covid Workers Leader for each work area, who helps raise workers’ concerns to the management. Other care channels include consultations with in-house psychological first-aiders.
19. I urge employers and workers to follow in Ed Zublin’s example to support mental well-being at the workplace. You can tap on various resources by the WSH Council, such as the subsidised Total WSH programme, as well as iWorkHealth, a free online assessment tool, to support your journey towards achieving better mental well-being for workers. You may also refer to the guidelines listed under the Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-Being at Workplaces for more good practices and assistance.
20. An industry-led workgroup is updating the Risk Management Code of Practice to provide guidance on how to mitigate risks associated with disease outbreaks, and mental well-being. The updated Code of Practice is expected to be ready by the second half of 2021 so do keep a lookout for it.
21. In conclusion, the principles guiding WSH and risk management will always be relevant, with or without the pandemic.
22. The recent spates of fatal workplace accidents are a tragic reminder that the safety of our workers must come first. Employees should be adequately equipped to understand the importance of safety measures, while employers should support them by implementing a sound risk management system.
23. At the same time, workplace health should not be neglected. The past year has taught us that managing risk from disease transmission, as well as employees’ mental health, is as equally important as accident prevention.
24. I have mentioned several resources by MOM and the WSH Council, such as the bizSAFE programme, online WSH courses, the Total WSH programme, and the updated Risk Management Code of Practice. I highly encourage employers and employees to tap on these resources, to support the building of your companies’ WSH capabilities.
25. When we reflect on the harm from accidents and ill-health, and its associated disruption to work and productivity, we can all agree that time spent in improving risk management is time well spent. Actions speak louder than words, so do take time to take care of your workers’ safety and health.
26. I wish you a fruitful Convention ahead. Thank you.