Integrated WSH approach encouraged

In the first three months of this year, Singapore saw 19 workplace fatalities. It seems a combined and concerted effort by HR, employers and the government is required for the country to change mind-sets and improve working conditions

With an ageing workforce and increasing life expectancies in Singapore, health issues such as chronic diseases will become more significant, affecting workers and potentially causing an impact on productivity. Organisations must therefore put in place holistic intervention programmes to ensure the safety, health and sustainability of their workforces.

At the third Singapore Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Conference 2014, Lawrence Waterman, Head – Health and Safety, London Legacy Development Corporation, highlighted the importance of having healthy workers. He was tasked with the safety and health aspects of 70,000 sub-contractors during the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London for the London Olympics.

“Wellbeing is an absolutely fundamental beginning of that conversation with the workforce on what needs to be done in partnership between employer and worker in order to improve health generally,” he said. “You will end up with a workforce that is healthy and happy in the workplace and who are much more productive.”

The importance of implementing “Total WSH” was further developed by Chia Kee Seng, Dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, at the National University of Singapore. “The way forward is to implement Total WSH,” he said. “The risk management system must not be just about safety risk factors, but management should also look into health factors, and promote the importance of health and wellbeing of workers.”

Indeed, good leadership at all levels is not only vital for economic success, but also for achieving safety and health for all workers. “Leaders shape cultures by first setting expectations, teaching others, stewarding results and most importantly leading by example,” said Jason Duncan, Regional Manufacturing Manager, ExxonMobil Chemical Asia-Pacific.

“For culture to grow and flourish, these (ideals) must be embedded throughout the workforce.” he added.
Changes ahead
While Singapore has been able to bring down the overall workplace fatality rate from 4.0 per 100,000 employees per year in 2005 to 2.1 in 2013, the country’s rate of improvement has slowed, and is now at risk of plateauing, or even slipping back.

In particular, Singapore’s WSH performance in the first three months of this year has been of grave concern. The country saw 19 workplace fatalities, five more than during the same period last year. Twelve out of the 19 lives were lost in the construction sector. The fatality rate in the construction sector has increased from 5.5 in 2011, to 5.9 in 2012, and then to 7.0 last year.

As such, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has announced that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is undertaking a review of its regulatory penalties and the legislative framework for WSH infringements. This will ensure that the government is able to send a stronger deterrent message.

“The situation is unacceptable, and we cannot let it continue,” Tharman told the Singapore WSH Conference 2014. “While construction firms face genuine operating challenges, such as worker shortages in some areas and pressure to complete projects on time, the safety and health of workers must be the foremost priority for everyone.”

Therefore, a shift in thinking and approach is needed, especially if Singapore is to achieve its target of fewer than 1.8 fatalities per 100,000 employees by 2018, Tharman added.

One way is to institute workplace safety and health risk management further upstream, meaning developers will be required to ensure their designs are safe to build.

Where previously the Design for Safety (DfS) programme was voluntary, the Government will now mandate it. The regulatory requirements and timeframe for their implementation will be announced by the end of this year.
Equal emphasis also has to be placed on workplace health, Tharman said. A study by the WSH Institute shows work-related ill health cost about $9 billion in 2011.

WSH Council, MOM and the Health Promotion Board have also jointly launched a new Guide to Total WSH. This aims to address the interconnected issues of WSH, together with the wellbeing of employees, by helping employers manage the safety, health and well-being of workers in the workplace.

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