Singapore: Charting a new roadmap for safer workplaces

ILO Press Release

Singapore: Charting a new roadmap for safer workplaces T

he Conference Committee on Safety and Health will consider a promotional framework for occupational safety and health (OSH), including a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation. The proposed instruments would support placing occupational safety and health high at national agendas, and promote safer and healthier working environments worldwide. To propel Singapore to the world’s top ten safest places to work, the country’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has already formulated a similar OSH framework at the national level to make possible significant improvements in the safety and health of Singapore’s workers. ILO Online reports from Singapore.  



  SINGAPORE (ILO Online) – On 20 April 2004, the Nicoll Highway collapse in Singapore not only killed 4 workers on the spot but also prompted an urgent call for change. At the same time, a review committee was convened in May 2004 to examine safety standards in the construction industry. Singapore’s safety standards have improved steadily over the past 20 years, but in 2002 its workplace fatality rate at 4.9 per 100,000 employees was still higher than the European Union’s average rate of 2.5. In 2004, 83 people lost their lives in work-related accidents here. The grave mistakes that were uncovered in the process of the inquiry on the highway collapse led to an interim report, calling for immediate action to be taken to address systemic weaknesses in the construction industry. After a year-long probe, the committee concluded that a string of errors in design, construction, monitoring and supervision; regulatory weaknesses; and the lack of defensive systems and emergency planning contributed to the accident. Based on the entire life-cycle of a construction project, the committee proposed several recommendations, including centralizing building control functions at the Building and Construction Authority to preserve the integrity of the system and maintain public accountability; strengthening disciplinary actions against professionals; incorporating safety records in tenders for public sector projects; tightening regulation for deep excavation projects and temporary works; and requiring licensing for specialist contractors. What’s more, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) formulated a new OSH framework to make possible significant improvements in the safety and health of Singapore’s workers – with the ambitious goal to propel Singapore to the world’s top ten safest places to work in the world. While the ultimate goal is for zero fatalities, MOM will first strive to reduce deaths at workplaces by a third in five years, and then by half within a decade or sooner. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong underlined the importance of occupational safety and health in his address at the 2006 ASEAN Labour Ministers’ Meeting: “While we push for greater flexibility and competitiveness, this must never be done at the expense of workers’ safety. We must send a clear and unequivocal message to all companies that basic workplace standards must never be compromised in the pursuit of profit.” Singapore’s decades-old Factories Act was replaced by the new Workplace Safety and Health Act in March 2006. Companies have to establish an OSH management system, identify and manage OSH risks at work and foster a strong OSH culture so that all employees can stay healthy and safe while at work. With the enactment of the new OSH Act, the Ministry of Manpower decided to increase its staff on OSH by 50 per cent (from 200 to 300) and established a new OSH inspectorate. Workplace safety is everybody’s responsibility    


  The message on the MOM web site couldn’t be clearer: “Be safe or be sorry. Call 63171016 to report unsafe workplaces”. The new Workplace Safety and Health Act engages all stakeholders and increases penalties for poor OSH management. By stating the desired OSH outcomes instead of specifying exact processes and precise safety measures, the new Act will compel all to identify possible hazards from the onset and to put in place safety systems in their workplaces. In order to improve government monitoring, MOM reinforced its OSH inspection capacity as mentioned above. Besides a reinforced inspection system, a Workplace Safety & Health Advisory Committee (WSHAC) will strengthen industry self-regulation. Comprising industry leaders, the committee will also advise MOM on the setting of OSH standards and regulations, the promotion of OSH awareness and engagement of industry to raise the level of OSH, and the training of key stakeholders to raise competency and capabilities in OSH. An International Advisory Panel will be set up to help Singapore tap into overseas expertise and experience. To raise safety awareness and cultivate a safety culture in all stakeholders at workplaces, MOM launched an inaugural National OSH Week on 28 April 2005, in conjunction with the World Day for Safety and Health at Work as declared by the ILO. The week featured seminars and roadshows, with active support and participation from different industries. As announced by Manpower Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen during the launch of the National OSH Week, the public sector, which accounts for nearly half of the construction demand, will take the lead to improve safety at construction sites. It will place a premium on safety in the procurement process and offer various incentives for good safety performance by successful bidders. The ILO has been working with a number of countries for the development of national OSH programmes. In Asia, the ILO has been cooperating closely with the Government of Thailand in the formulation of an OSH Master Plan (2000-2006). Similar efforts are underway with the governments of Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam. “Faced with 2.2 million fatalities caused annually by work-related injuries and diseases, delegates to the International Labour Conference will take a significant step towards improving occupational safety and health worldwide. if they adopt the proposed ILO instruments”, said Jukka Takala, Director of the ILO’s Safework programme. “Singapore is one of the lead countries in Asia now showing the way to an integrated framework for occupational safety and health.”

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