While Singapore hit its target of bringing down the workplace fatality rate to 1.8 per 100,000 employees in 2014 - 4 years ahead of schedule - the improvement was not sustained and the fatality rate rose to 1.9 last year and with 48 lives lost so far, it is set to hit 2.2 this year , noted Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say at The Singapore Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Conference yesterday.
In line with Singapore's Vision Zero journey, to bring the fatality rate down to 1.8 in 2018, Lim highlighted three areas that must be improved which includes fatality in the construction sector, worker's health and workplace incidents involving workers aged 55 and older.
In order to improve on these three areas to get back on track towards the 2018 target, three priorities were identified under the WSH 2018 Plus plan.
1. Improving WSH performance in the construction sector A study by the WSH Institute revealed that of the 33 workplace fatalities in the construction sector from June 2015 to May 2016, 87% were caused by a failure in risk management, 73% were caused by poor planning and execution of work, and 93% were caused by wrong or unsafe behaviour adopted by workers.
Lim noted that some companies, accepting WSH infringements as unavoidable, have even set aside "safety budgets" to cover enforcement fines.
Lim emphasised: "If risks are eliminated earlier, the chance of accidents happening during construction drops significantly."
He encourages companies to take greater ownership by identifying workplace safety and health risks upstream, setting performance targets and encouraging reporting of any workplace safety and health incidents, however minor it may be.
On the Government's side, support and encouragement can be provided by incorporating more safety considerations into public construction tenders to spur private developers to do the same and raise WSH ownership across the sector.
2. Strengthening WSH competency Lim noted the need to develop a workforce competent in managing workplace safety and health.
"Our analysis showed that workers with less than 1 year experience are almost twice more likely to be involved in fatal incidents. The introduction of new technology and construction methods also means that WSH risks are now more complex to tackle," he said.
The government plans to strengthen the WSH competency by working with the industry to professionalise the WSH officers and develop a career progression pathway to attract and retain better talents.
"At the same time, we will enhance our training curriculum and facilities to simulate real-life working conditions using virtual simulators. Trainees would then have better exposure to perform high risk activities in a safe classroom environment before they step out to perform actual operations in the real world," he added.
3. Building collective WSH ownership Building collective WSH ownership means to inculcate a progressive and pervasive culture in WSH.
"Safety is not just about keeping oneself safe. More often than not, accidents are not caused by the victims themselves but by the people around them," Lim said.
In order to prevent accidents, everyone (government, unions, companies, management, supervisors and workers) have to work safely together, Lim said.
"Collective WSH ownership means everyone has to embrace the same mindset of not just reducing workplace fatalities, but preventing all work-related injuries and ill-health too. A minor accident today, if not prevented, can lead to a major accident, a Dangerous Occurrence or even a fatal accident tomorrow."
Workers' health and age also plays a part
Additionally, Lim noted that with the WSH 2018 Plus, health and age plays a part.
Workers’ health has been noted by Lim as a contributing factor to workplace fatalities. In the last 3 years, one-third of all work-related fatality cases involved workers with existing medical conditions which were aggravated by their work activities, resulting in workplace incidents, Lim said.
"Our workforce is ageing fast. To lay a stronger foundation for sustained improvement in workplace safety and health, we need to adopt a Total WSH approach by placing equal emphasis on both safety and health."
In recent years, incidents involving workers aged 55 and older have been going up by about two percentage points a year to now account for 18% of all incidents in H1 2016. Lim noted that these fatalities could be prevented if the jobs were re-designed to take into consideration their physical abilities.
In order to help companies start their Total WSH journey, the government will also launch a Total WSH starter kit which comprises of educational materials such as videos for employers and their workers, and a guidebook detailing how to embark on Total WSH.
"Vision Zero is a journey with no end. We have come a long way but there is still a lot more work to be done. As the Chinese saying goes, Run fast just to stand still is not good enough. We want to run faster so as to move ahead, to make our workplaces of tomorrow safer and healthier than today, for all workers and our people," Lim concluded.
Photo / Provided