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Guest of Honour Speech at Workplace Safety and Health Conference 2022

Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng , Singapore Expo

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

Members of the WSH Council and WSH Council Committees,

Tripartite and industry partners,

Ladies and gentlemen.

1. Good morning. I’m glad to join you here at The Singapore Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Conference 2022. I recall the last Conference in 2020 was held fully online due to the COVID-19 restrictions. We have come a long way in our COVID fight, and I am really glad this year’s Conference could be held physically, and also heartened to see such a huge turnout of close to 1,100 in-person participants.

2. What is disheartening however, is our poor safety record thus far for this year. The economy has been re-opening well; but conversely our WSH performance has gotten off to a rocky start. From the start of 2022 up to now, there have been 37 workplace fatalities, the same number for the whole of 2021. Most of these accidents were due to preventable safety lapses, such as inadequate control measures or lack of adherence to safe work procedures.

3. I know companies are struggling with some of the after-effects of COVID-19, such as the rush to meet deadlines, and manpower constraints. These factors will continue to weigh heavily over the next few months. But addressing them cannot come at the expense of safety.

4. Instead, these factors call for an urgent need to refocus attention and vigilance on WSH. Thus, we recently announced a “Heightened Safety” period of six months. We introduced unprecedented measures, such as the mandatory Safety Time-Out, and the upfront debarment from hiring migrant workers if following an accident we find that there were serious WSH lapses.

5. Beyond dealing with the immediate situation, it is also important to have structural changes to enable us to attain our WSH 2028 goals and sustain good WSH performance over the longer term. This means embedding safety into every company, every worksite, and every employee. This can only happen with a strong, pervasive WSH culture and ownership over WSH performance.

6. And for a strong WSH culture to germinate, grow and flourish, it must start from the top – with the chief executive and company directors. This is because they are the ones with influence and control over budgets, priorities, and training for WSH. WSH considerations have to be entrenched as most important and non-negotiable decisions for companies. Only the chief executive and board that can do that; they will then be able to ultimately drive good WSH practices on the ground.

7. We see this clearly when we compare the WSH performance of companies within the same industry. They deal with similar workplace risks, tap on the same profile of workers; yet some companies consistently have stellar WSH track records compared to their peers, and win WSH Awards year after year.

The biggest reason for this difference is the emphasis on WSH by company directors.

8. To help management teams shape the WSH culture in their companies, the Ministry of Manpower and WSH Council have been working on a Code of Practice (COP) on Chief Executives and Board of Directors’ WSH Duties.

The COP aims to distil the management principles and practices of safe companies into actionable steps for others to adopt and adapt to their circumstances. After extensive consultations with the Singapore Institute of Directors, Singapore Institute of Safety Officers, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, Tripartite Partners and various industry associations, I am happy to launch the COP today.

9. The COP can be summarised into 4 main principles. Company Directors should:

  1. First, ensure that WSH is integrated into business decisions and there is clarity in their roles and responsibilities in leading WSH.
  2. Second, continuously build a strong WSH culture, set the tone and demonstrate visible leadership in embodying and communicating highly effective WSH standards.
  3. Third, ensure that WSH management systems are effective and reviewed regularly.
  4. Lastly, empower workers to be actively engaged in WSH.

10. The measures outlined in the COP are aimed at integrating WSH into organisational processes and establish clear responsibilities of company directors and CEOs. For instance, the COP suggests that company directors set WSH as a regular agenda item in Board meetings, demand effective WSH standards from suppliers, and set up an internal WSH reporting system that assures workers of fair and safe treatment.

11. The COP will apply to companies in all industries, even those that have no manual work and little risk of physical injury. This is because WSH covers both safety and health, which includes mental well-being. Companies should apply the COP principles to protect both physical safety and mental well-being of their workers.

12. The guidance in the COP is an example of how MOM and WSH Council are supporting companies to build their WSH capability and foster a good WSH culture.

There are many other Codes of Practice, guidelines and resources available in the WSH Council website that companies can access and share freely. For SMEs that are just starting in their WSH journey, we are expanding our StartSAFE programme.

Under StartSAFE, we bear the full cost of WSH consultancy visits to identify risks and advise on measures to prevent them.

13. So every company that wants to improve WSH will have support to do so. But for companies that neglect WSH, MOM has no choice but to take a tough stance. We will be gazetting the COP as an Approved COP by October this year. This means that in the event of a WSH Act offence, the Courts can consider compliance to this Approved COP in their judgment. Adhering to the Approved COP’s principles can be a mitigating factor. I hope this Approved COP will enable more companies to strengthen their WSH culture, and get us back on track towards meeting our WSH performance target.

14. We recognise that it has been a turbulent period as we continue to battle work pressures and uncertainties. But we cannot, and we must never, let it be an excuse to put WSH on the back burner. It is paramount that companies understand the need to be safe, and how WSH is aligned to their commercial interests.

15. Your business will be more sustainable if you have high WSH standards. You can secure more contracts with buyers that value WSH. You can better attract and retain talent, given your strong reputation for looking after their safety and health. And you avoid disruptions following accidents, stop work orders or debarment from hiring foreign employees.

16. Business sustainability is built on the safety and health of our workers, so let us bring WSH back on track. I wish all participants a fruitful conference.

Thank you.