Opening Address at National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign Launch 2023
Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Singapore Expo
Mr Abu Bakar bin Mohd Nor, Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council,
Members of the WSH Council,
My Parliamentary Colleagues, SMS Amy Khor and MOS Alvin Tan,Members of the Multi-Agency Workplace Safety Taskforce,Tripartite and industry partners,
Ladies and gentlemen
1. Firstly, I want to thank everyone for being here. It is really heartening to see the workplace safety and health community all here in full force. Glad to join all of you at the National Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Campaign launch 2023.
Progress made in Heightened Safety Period
2. Last year was a challenging year for WSH. We ended the year with 46 workplace fatalities, but it could have been a lot worse.
• To arrest the concerning rise in workplace incidents from Jan to Aug 2022, we had to introduce the Heightened Safety Period (HSP) in Sep 2022.
• We called on industries to implement a mandatory Safety Time-Out to review their risk assessments and safe work procedures and improve site safety.
Though the HSP made some progress, we extended HSP from March 2023, to continue to keep the pressure on and alertness up.
3. I am heartened that we have made progress over the past nine months in addressing workplace fatalities.
• The annualised fatality rate per 100,000 workers fell from 1.5 for Jan to Aug 2022, the period before HSP, to 0.8 for Sep 2022 to till-date. This is significant, as it means that the average number of fatalities fell by almost half from 4.5 per month before HSP to 2.3 during HSP.
• If we can maintain this level of performance on a sustained basis, we will have Singapore just among five countries in the OECD with similar WSH performance outcomes. This is one positive outcome of the HSP which we can be assured of that the HSP has done its job.
What remains concerning is the major injury rate, which worsened from 16.8 per 100,000 workers before HSP to 19.2 during HSP.
4. Overall, the HSP impact was uneven across sectors. While the construction sector remained the top contributor in terms of absolute number of workplace fatal and major injuries, I am encouraged that it showed the most improvement for the fatality and major injury rates during HSP.
• The drop in total number of fatalities during HSP was likely due to the improvement in major injuries in Construction that have higher risk of fatality, such as fall from heights.
• However, smaller Construction sites, Addition and Alteration (A&A) works and renovation involving Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) continued to see higher fatal and major injuries.
• Overall, Construction remained the top contributor in terms of number of workplace fatal and major injuries.
5. For the Manufacturing sector, its annualised fatal and major injury rate during HSP worsened, and it was the worst sector during HSP, exceeding that for Construction.
6. While we have made progress to stem the momentum of fatalities last year, HSP has served its purpose as an urgent call on employers to prioritise safety and has brought down workplace fatalities.
• The drop in fatality rate to 0.8 per 100,000 workers showed that fatality numbers can be kept low and can be managed , if everyone remains vigilant and focuses their attention on WSH.
• I would like to thank companies, WSH professionals, union leaders and workers, for their collective resolve and efforts over the past nine months.
7. As such, we will exit HSP on 31 May 2023 as planned.
• We cannot extend HSP indefinitely.
• It relies primarily on tougher enforcements and penalties, and is not a sustainable approach.
• However, it is imperative that we continue to sustain the momentum to further strengthen WSH at all levels.
Introduction of SAFE measures
8. As we exit HSP, we need to recognise that it takes the collective will, responsibility and effort of the entire ecosystem to keep our workers safe and healthy.
• Everyone – service buyers, suppliers, employers, workers and members of public – has an important role to play.
• Hence, as part of our roadmap post-HSP, we want to fundamentally strengthen the WSH system and ownership at all levels across the ecosystem.
• This is crucial to building a strong WSH culture that permeates the entire ecosystem.
• We need every stakeholder to make this a priority.
9. The Multi-Agency Workplace Safety Taskforce (MAST) that was convened during the HSP, comprising the Ministry of National Development, Ministry of Trade and Industry,
Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, and Ministry of Manpower, has developed a set of sectoral and broad-based measures to strengthen the WSH ecosystem and the roles of each stakeholder in uplifting WSH.
10. These measures have been carefully developed after analysing our workplace fatal and major injury data, findings from our WSH inspections and inputs from local and overseas industry experts.
• MAST will retain some HSP measures, and introduce new measures to strengthen WSH ownership fundamentally and sustainably at the sectoral, company and worker level.
• Only with the collective ownership and active involvement of all stakeholders can we build a strong WSH culture.
11. What does it mean to have a strong WSH culture?
• For instance, a worker should feel safe and not be afraid to speak to his supervisor or employer whenever he sees an unsafe act or situation.
• This is possible only when employers believe in WSH and take the workers’ feedback seriously and take corrective action not because MOM inspectors are peering over their shoulders but because it is the right thing to do.
• That said, in the event that safety issues are not addressed adequately, the worker and his or her colleagues must be assured that they can depend on their union or the MOM to help address the safety issues.
12. I will now share more on the measures, which we call the Safety Accountability, Focus and Empowerment, or SAFE, measures.
SAFE Measures to further improve WSH outcomes
Strengthen WSH ownership at sectoral level
13. As the HSP impact has been uneven across industries, with some sectors continuing to contribute significantly to the number of workplace fatalities and major injuries, it is important to strengthen oversight over these sectors and target specific sectors and incident types.
14. First, to strengthen WSH ownership in the Construction sector and align the interest of businesses to WSH, we will require more stringent safety requirements in Government Procurement Entities’ tenders. For example,
• We intend to introduce a harmonised set of safety disqualification criteria for public construction and construction-related tender participation, for contractors at all levels.
• This means that all main and sub-contractors that want to participate in a project must have a minimum safety performance, instead of only the main and first level sub-contractors,
• We also intend to introduce a WSH bonus scheme for projects above a certain Estimated Procurement Value, to incentivise good safety performance.
• This implementation of these set of measures is led by SMS Tan Kiat How, and MAST will consult the industry. MND and MOM will share more details when ready.
• I urge all service buyers, particularly at the top of supply chains, to also require high WSH standards in their procurement processes, so that their contractors will realise that good WSH equals good business outcomes.
15. Second, we will expand the Demerit Point System (DPS) to the Manufacturing sector, to uplift WSH standards and practices.
• Under the DPS, serious or consistent WSH breaches can lead to temporary debarment from employing foreign employees. We have seen improvements in the Construction sector from the implementation of DPS.
• The expansion of DPS to manufacturing, which is the second top contributor for workplace fatal and major injuries, will help to strengthen WSH ownership in this sector.
• This implementation of these set of measures is led by MOS Alvin Tan, with one round of consultation completed. MTI and MOM will share further details.
16. MAST is also introducing or studying other sectoral measures such as
• Requiring Video Surveillance System for construction sites with project value equal to or above $5 million;
• Ensuring safe use of machineries and combustible dust; and
• Enhancing vehicular safety involving lorry cranes and forklifts.
17. These measures aim to address common lapses found in high-risk activities.
• For example, suppliers of combustible dust and industrial machines will need to ensure that their products are safe for use, while workplaces are required to declare the storage and use of large quantities of combustible dust.
18. The industry must continue to play their part to mitigate WSH risks. For example, with the warmer weather, the industry should refer to the WSH Guidelines on Managing Heat Stress at the Workplace and must implement mitigating measures such as providing drinking water facilities and cold drinks, and more frequent rest breaks, so that workers working outdoors are hydrated at least once every hour. We are considering what additional measures are needed if the situation worsens.
Strengthen WSH ownership at company level
19. At the company level, there is also a need to do more to drive WSH accountability and ownership.
• Corporate leaders need to be more actively involved in WSH, as their influence over workplace resources and priorities set the organisation’s WSH culture.
20. Hence, we will retain selected HSP measures such as requiring Chief Executives (CEs) to personally account to MOM for serious WSH lapses in selected cases and take responsibility for rectifications.
• Thus far, 16 CEs and top management have accounted for the WSH lapses in their companies during HSP.
• We have found this measure effective in getting CEs to focus their attention on WSH and improve their company’s WSH performance.
21. We have also received feedback from CEs, particularly those in SMEs, that they hope for better support so that they and their management teams can better fulfil their WSH responsibilities.
• We will help equip corporate leaders in SMEs as well as all corporate leaders in higher-risk industries of their WSH responsibilities and ways to develop their companies’ WSH capabilities.
• To achieve this, we will require a CE or Board Director of all companies in Construction, Manufacturing, Transport & Storage and Marine sectors to attend a half-day Top Executive WSH Programme. This programme is already available, and I urge CEs to attend before this requirement kick in Mar 2024.
Strengthen WSH ownership at worker level
22. Lastly, workers themselves have a part to play to ensure their own safety and that of others in the workplace.
• Workers must be empowered to take greater ownership of their own safety and be equipped with updated WSH know-how so that they can look out for themselves and their co-workers.
23. We will introduce an online micro-learning component to the Safety Orientation Course recertification assessment, starting with the Construction sector.
• This enhanced safety training will keep workers in higher-risk industries up-to-date every two years to keep up with the changes in the industry, emerging WSH risks and new industry safety practices.
Campaign – Reporting saves lives
24. As WSH Council Chairman Abu Bakar has explained, this year’s WSH Campaign theme “Reporting Saves Lives” calls out to every individual, including employers, workers and members of the public, to play their part to look out for the safety and health of workers around us.
25. Having an internal reporting framework within companies will support workers in taking ownership of their own and their co-workers’ safety through reporting unsafe practices to their employers.
26. We have seen how the concerted efforts of MOM, sector agencies and the industry working together have helped to improve workplace fatalities during the HSP.
27. My MAST colleagues and I are committed to partner the industry and union to see through the SAFE measures that I have mentioned.
• The full list of measures to strengthen ownership across all levels in the WSH ecosystem is in the MAST press release.
• Details for some measures such as the safety requirements for Government construction tenders and vehicular safety involving lorry cranes and forklifts will be announced by MAST agencies when ready.
28. Even as we exit HSP, MAST will continue as a standing committee to drive sectoral measures and performance more effectively.
• We are also expanding the composition of the taskforce to enable MAST to address workplace safety and health issues holistically and strengthen tripartite WSH ownership.
29. MAST and the WSH Council will work together to support companies and workers in this journey. Employers, workers, service buyers, suppliers and members of public must also play their part.
• We need to refresh our social compact, where all stakeholders actively contribute to build a sustainable WSH culture and ecosystem.
• I am confident that with the concerted efforts and ownership from all stakeholders, we will have a much stronger WSH culture.
30. I wish all of you a safe and healthy 2023. Thank you.