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Guest-of-Honour Speech at Singapore Contractors Association Ltd Annual Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) Campaign 2023 Opening Ceremony

Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Zaqy Mohamad, Employment and Employability Institute

A. Opening remarks

A1. I am glad to join you at the Opening Ceremony of SCAL’s Environment, Health & Safety Campaign 2023. Thank you for your commitment to improving workplace safety and health (WSH) standards in the Construction industry.

B. Sector’s WSH performance during Heightened Safety Period (HSP)

B1. We have recently exited the Heightened Safety Period (HSP) which was in place from September 2022 to May 2023. During the HSP, the Construction sector showed the most improvement among the high-risk sectors for fatality and major injury rates, demonstrating that greater vigilance can effectively reduce workplace incidents. 

a. Before the HSP, the average monthly number of workplace fatalities for the sector was 1.6 between January and August 2022. This fell to 0.7 during the HSP between September 2022 and May 2023. The annualised workplace fatality rate per 100,000 workers also fell by more than half from 4.1 to 1.6 for these respective periods.

B2. Nonetheless, the sector was still the top contributor in terms of absolute number of workplace fatal and major injuries. A higher incidence of such injuries occurred at smaller construction sites, and during Addition and Alteration (A&A) works and renovation work involving small and medium enterprises (SMEs). 

B3. While the average monthly number of workplace fatalities for the sector was 1.0 between January and May while the HSP was in force, we have already seen two fatalities in Construction in June. In fact, it was just three weeks ago that a workplace incident at the Fuji Xerox Towers building in Tanjong Pagar claimed the life of a young migrant worker. This is a stark reminder that we must do much more to ensure that the improvements achieved during HSP are sustained. 

B4. Our commitment to vigilance cannot falter just because we have exited the HSP. On the contrary, the bar for WSH standards has been raised across the industry, and all firms must recognise that WSH is of paramount importance.

C. Sustaining WSH standards post-HSP
C1. As such, we must continually work to strengthen WSH at all levels – the Construction sector as a whole, and at the company and worker level.

C2. This effort to uphold WSH standards must be collectively owned and sustained by all stakeholders in the ecosystem – including service buyers, suppliers, employers, workers, unions, and members of the public. This sense of collective ownership at all levels is critical to building a strong WSH culture.

C3. To reinforce this tenet of collective ownership, the Multi-Agency Workplace Safety Taskforce (MAST) had earlier developed a set of sectoral and broad-based measures, also known as Safety Accountability, Focus and Empowerment (or SAFE) measures. There are a few measures specific to the Construction sector. I urge all of you to familiarise yourselves and your companies’ management with these measures, and the rationale underpinning them.

D. WSH culture

D1. The SAFE measures emphasise the need to refresh our social compact in building a sustainable WSH culture and ecosystem. Ultimately, the effectiveness of these SAFE measures hinges on the development of a strong and abiding WSH culture throughout the sector.

D2. What does a strong WSH culture look like? It means that employers and corporate leaders foster an environment that has zero tolerance for unsafe practices, and encourages innovative WSH initiatives and technology. 

a. On this note, I am heartened to learn about the creative WSH solutions that we are recognising today through the WSH Innovation Award. These solutions not only reduce the risks of injury and loss of life at worksites, but also leverage technology to enhance safety training and simplify safety compliance measures. 

b. These solutions, and the many more that were considered for this award, can have a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of workers. I hope that these solutions are not only celebrated but adopted and implemented across the sector.

c. Please join me in a round of applause for the prize-winners.

D3. A strong WSH culture also means that workers always operate in a safe manner, and are able to report unsafe practices to their employers as a first line of defence, or to unions or MOM. 

a. This is why MOM has called on all employers to set up an internal reporting framework for unsafe practices. I urge you as corporate leaders to learn from the experience of firms that have successfully established internal reporting mechanisms, and to implement this in your own company.

b. For workers to always operate in a safe manner, they should be updated with the latest WSH knowledge and lessons from recent incidents. That is why I announced in May that under the SAFE measures, online micro-learning will be part of the Safety Orientation Course re-certification assessment to ensure continuous WSH learning. I’m happy that SCAL Academy has come on board as one of pilot training providers, which I’m sure will make the micro-learning content very industry-relevant.   

E. Retaining experienced and skilled workers

E1. Fostering the right WSH culture also means having the right people to build and sustain that culture.

E2. It is important for the Construction industry to focus on hiring and retaining experienced and skilled workers. Such workers would be more familiar with safety procedures, and can guide less experienced workers, thereby supporting a stronger WSH culture and better safety outcomes.

E3. Retaining experienced workers would also complement efforts to improve productivity, which will help to moderate labour demand in the industry. As of Q1 2023, the number of Work Permit Holders (WPHs) in the Construction sector has already exceeded pre-COVID numbers. Such growth is not sustainable in the medium-term as we are already facing constraints in the provision of dormitory beds.

E4. As such, I call on all industry players to invest in more stringent evaluation of workers’ skills and experiences when hiring, and to place more emphasis on retaining experienced and skilled workers, for the benefit of your business and the sector as a whole.

F. Conclusion

F1. Maintaining high WSH standards is critical not only to achieving business competitiveness, but also to securing the trust of clients and workers alike.

F2. More importantly, WSH practices aim to continually safeguard workers’ physical and mental well-being. This is aptly encapsulated in SCAL’s campaign theme this year – Everyone Home Safe, to their families and loved ones.

F3. All this can only be achieved through the development of a strong WSH ownership at all levels and in all stakeholders of the Construction industry.

F4. The awards that will be presented today are a testament to the enduring commitment of industry partners to WSH, and are themselves a celebration of the sector’s WSH culture. I would like to congratulate all winners once again.

F5. Let us all do our part to safeguard workplace safety and health.