Opening Address at National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign 2022
Mr Zaqy Mohamad
Mr John Ng, Chairman, WSH Council
Members of the WSH Council,
Ladies and gentlemen,
- Good morning. I’m glad to be able to speak to you on the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. I am also very happy to see so many of you here in this auditorium physically. I am sure many of you missed such large-scale physical events, and with the latest easing of the SMMs with effect from Tuesday, I look forward to many more physical engagement events and sessions with industry and union leaders as well as WSH practitioners to advance towards our WSH 2028 vision of a healthy workforce in safe workplaces.
- As at end 2021, we were on track to meeting our WSH 2028 goal of reducing workplace deaths to less than 1 per 100,000 workers – achieved by only four OECD countries and we have set very high targets for ourselves. This is what our workers deserve and what we need to aspire to do. Employers and workers have done well to halve our fatality rate from 2.3 in 2011 to 1.1 in 2021.
Rising Number of Fatalities and Need to take Greater Ownership to Prevent Workplace Accidents
- Since the start of 2022, however, I note with concern that there has been a spate of fatal accidents. We have done well overall, but as we resume work at workplaces, adjustments have to be made and a signal has to be sent to everyone to keep up our risk assessments, trainings, reminders and refreshers, because these are all important.
- The recent spate of accidents is really concerning. We have had 16 from the beginning of the year till now. In this month alone, there were seven. This was the most we had in a month since February last year. Tragically, two separate cases occurred just yesterday. This trajectory is very worrying, especially when many of these accidents could have been prevented with basic risk controls.
- In the Ministry of Manpower’s preliminary investigations for some of these accidents, there was a lack of control measures and safe work procedures on site.
- For example, in a recent case of a forklift operator being pinned by an overturned forklift, the operator was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. Had he done so, the seatbelt could have prevented him from being thrown out of the cabin and pinned by the forklift. This was tragic, but could have been prevented.
- In another tragic case, an engineer was performing inspections at the maintenance level of a building when she stepped on a false ceiling panel and fell 30 metres to her death. She was not wearing fall arrest equipment at the time of accident, which could have mitigated the risk of falling from heights while working near fragile surfaces. This could also have been prevented.
- Our WSH performance over the past few months could, and should have, been better, and these accidents serve as a grim reminder for us to take workplace safety seriously.
- The Ministry of Manpower has been ramping up our enforcement operations, focusing on worksites with common accident risks, such as work at height activities and use of heavy machinery, including forklift and elevated platforms. Our inspectors will be checking that risk assessments and safe work procedures are in place, advising companies on best practices where appropriate, and penalising errant companies where needed. Given the recent spate, we are devoting more resources to conduct 25% more inspections in 2Q2022 compared to last quarter. The WSH Council will continue to engage companies and workers on how they can be safer. This is what today’s campaign launch is about; for awareness of workplace safety and health to be even more pervasive.
- But when we reflect on the basic lapses in the recent accidents, such as not wearing seatbelts in vehicles or fall protection gear when working at height, it suggests that the education and outreach we do may sometimes fall on deaf ears, if it is not reinforced by company processes and cultures that prioritise workplace safety and health.
- Company processes and culture are shaped by senior management, specifically the CEO and the Board. That is why MOM is embarking on a focused approach to target CEOs and Board members to be their companies’ own WSH champions.
Approved Code of Practices for Company Directors’ WSH Duties
- Company leaders, CEOs and Board members have direct control and influence over their workplace resources and culture – for example, encouraging workers to report safety risks, and taking active steps to eliminate them. Given that our existing laws hold company leaders liable in ensuring workers’ safety and health, we want to better support company leaders by setting out clear expectations of what can be done to fulfil their legal obligations.
- To effect this, the Ministry of Manpower and the WSH Council are consulting our tripartite partners and industry associations to develop a new Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) for Company Director’s WSH Duties under the WSH Act.
- The ACOP aims to provide clarity and enhance ownership of Chief Executives and Board of Directors’ WSH roles and duties.
- It also aims to introduce measures that are effective in preventing accidents, and yet practical and easy to implement. Examples could include having WSH as a regular item within the Board agenda, where near misses, accidents and their learning points are surfaced internally. Another measure could be emphasising to employees the importance of upholding WSH, such as by taking remedial action against employees that flout WSH procedures.
- In the event of a Workplace Safety and Health Act offence, compliance to these measures can be used in courts as evidence to show that reasonably practicable measures have been taken by company leaders. At the same time, the courts can also take into account whether companies ignored such guidance in the ACOP, in deciding on judgements and penalties. It makes clearer the expectations for CEOs, Board members and leaders to better understand their roles and responsibilities. Thus, the ACOP should equip company leaders with practical guidance on how to fulfil their WSH expectations, and also sharpen accountability to meet these expectations.
- We target to publish the ACOP by early next year, and we encourage company leaders and workers to participate in our engagement sessions in the coming months to share your views.
Take Time to Take Care through WSH Ownership
- The theme for this year’s National WSH Campaign is: ‘Take Time to Take Care of your Safety and Health’. This refers to employees taking the time to look out for their own and their colleagues’ safety and health. It also refers to company leaders investing their management bandwidth to take care of their company’s safety and health. We will make WSH expectations on company leaders more explicit with the upcoming ACOP.
- Moderna Homes Pte Ltd is a good example of a company that has taken time to take care of their workers’ safety and health. They are a company which specialises in modular high-rise construction.
- Moderna Homes puts in time to train their workers to properly identify safety hazards. They set aside time for their workers to give safety talks to their peers. Their workers are rewarded for reporting any near misses or safety concerns, and their management leads by example so that everybody embraces a culture of safety.
- The company also invests time in health promotion initiatives. These include distributing fruits to all staff to encourage healthy eating habits, and the ‘Burn Calories, not Electricity’ initiative, where staff are encouraged to use the stairs instead of the elevators, so that workers can get in a bit of extra exercise! It is through these practices that Moderna Homes clinched a WSH Performance (Gold) Award in 2021, earning them the recognition of being amongst the best in workplace safety and health.
- The National WSH Campaign reminds us that investing time and effort in workplace safety and health is worthwhile. On this World Day for Safety and Health at Work, let us commit to foster a better, safer, and healthier work environment for all.
- Thank you and have a great day ahead.