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Speech by Minister for Manpower at the WSH Awards Ceremony, 24 Jul 2009

Mr Heng Chiang Gnee, Deputy Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council

Mr Stephen Lee, President, Singapore National Employers Federation Members of the WSH Council and Committees Industry leaders and partners
 Award winners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Evening.

I am pleased to join you today at the Workplace Safety and Health Awards 2009.
First, let me thank the WSH Council for organising this annual event to recognise those with the best WSH performance. I am delighted to learn that the number of Award winners this year has risen by more than 30%. Companies will look to our winners as role models in demonstrating strong commitment to WSH excellence.
Pursuing WSH Excellence and Overcoming Challenges
1. The pursuit of WSH excellence is not without challenges. Each of our award winners today has a story to tell about this journey. Along the way, some have overcome significant difficulties in sustaining WSH improvements and have gone from good to great.Others may have had tough encounters with serious accidents and have to re-evaluate how they manage safety. But all thesecompanies have learnt from their experiences, strengthened their safety systems and processes and emerged stronger for it. Let me take this opportunity to share the experiences of two winners that have exemplified the spirit of continuous improvement in WSH outcomes.

2. The first is WSH Performance Excellence Award winner Hitachi Global StorageTechnologies Singapore, Pte Ltd (Hitachi GST).Hitachi GST is committed to continuously improving its WSH standards. It demonstrates this commitment through a strong emphasis on its employees’ safety and health. Hitachi GST has put in place a comprehensive management system and procedures covering all aspects of employee safety and health, from capability building and promotion to recognition and rewards. A notable initiative in Hitachi GST’s journey towards WSH excellence was the implementation of ‘Gemba Walk’ in the company. ‘Gemba’ means factory floor and the idea is to be in touch with what is happening on the ground. Hitachi GST’s managing director, senior management and managers conduct the ‘Gemba Walk’ on a regular basis to identify opportunities for WSH improvements in the workplace. Top management commitment towards WSH has translated into a strong sense of personal WSH responsibility amongst Hitachi GST’s employees and helped the company build a strong culture of continuous WSH improvements.
3. I would also like to commend first-time Silver Award winner Boustead Projects Pte Ltd. Following a serious scaffold accident in March 2006 which led to a fatality and several injuries, Boustead Projects has put in much effort to improve its WSH standards. They have not experienced any serious accidents since 2007. A key driving force behind this is the commitment of Boustead’s top2 management. The company’s WSH policy states clearly the responsibility of the managing director to ensure that all staff, subcontractors and workers understand the company’s desire for WSH excellence and are inspired to achieve high standards.

Boustead puts in place WSH Management programmes on target areas of concern over a 6-month period, such as work at height or lifting activities.
This includes empowering employees to recommend areas of improvements so that the company can implement measures  for sustained progress. By extending this initiative to its subcontractors, Boustead has been able to make meaningful improvements to its work processes. Boustead has made good progress but it must continue to enhance its WSH processes and practices.
4. These two award winners are good examples of organizations that have had different experiences in their WSH journeys but have both made significant improvements and excelled in WSH. WSH improvements have also led to better business outcomes and a safer workforce for these companies. I call upon companies that are doing well in WSH to take a leaf from Hitachi GST’s story and strive to be even better. For companies that are currently facing challenges in WSH, I strongly urge you to draw from Boustead’s experience and strive to improve.
Achieving WSH Excellence the SME Way
5. Small and Medium Enterprises (or SMEs) in particular can draw many learning lessons from the experiences of our award winners. Some SMEs have the perception that resource and budget constraints would prevent them from improving their safety performance. But the fact is that many SMEs are able to conquer these challenges and manage safety very well. To recognise theachievements of SMEs, the WSH Council has created a new award this year called the “WSH bizSAFE Star Awards for SMEs”. The three SME winners 3 demonstrate two common characteristics that other SMEs could emulate. Let me elaborate.
6. The first feature is the strong commitment to WSH by their top management. This translates into concrete and visible actions such as injecting more and better resources, enhancing training and developing company-wide programmes to ensure safety. bizSAFE STAR winner Multiheight Scaffolding allocates almost 20% of its total annual revenue towards WSH-related matters. It puts in place extensive safety audit programmes involving many levels of staff from top management to supervisors. Another winner Vigahs Tech, a ship repair contractor, implements a daily special briefing by its management to workers on WSH issues, on top of its toolbox meetings. The third bizSAFE Star winner PLC Scaffolding is committed to training all its employees beyond the mandatory safety requirements for all its employees. All of PLC’s supervisors are trained in Risk Assessment techniques.
7. The second common characteristic amongst these winners involves tying employees’ safety performance to their annual performance appraisal as well as bonuses. For Multiheight, a staff member’s safety performance is a Key Performance Indicator. PLC Scaffolding has an employee incentive and penalty scheme to encourage the right safety attitude and mindset across the entirecompany.

 8. Such strong commitment to safety has been rewarding for these winners. All of them agreed that better WSH standards have helped to grow their businesses. Multiheight, for example, reported that potential customers were more confident of the company after it became a bizSAFE STAR company. This has helped grow its clientele base by 30%! While an Award is prestigious, the real prize is the fact that all your workers can expect to stay safe at work and go home to their loved ones everyday. 

Closure of NWSH Campaign 2009 but the WSH Journey Continues

9. The journey taken by many of our award winners today contributes to the national journey we are taking towards WSH excellence. Since our WSH reform in 2005, we have managed to reduce our work fatality rate by over 40% from 4.9 per 100,000 employees in 2004 to 2.8 last year. This is encouraging. However, to bring it down further to lead in global standards will require a strong WSHculture across our myriad and diverse workplaces. Each and every CEO, manager, supervisor and worker will need to play their roles well.
10. This year till end of June, we saw 36 work-related fatalities, more than the 32 fatalities over the same period last year. Clearly, much more needs to be done. During the launch of the National WSH Campaign, I announced the WSH 2018 strategy to lead us to higher WSH standards. We also shared key initiatives for the construction and marine sectors during the Campaign. Much work is already in progress to address the critical areas of safety lapses. Today, I am pleased to share important developments from one of the key initiatives under WSH 2018 – the formation of our national WSH Institute.
Creating New Capability Building Frontiers through WSH Institute
11. Moving Singapore to become a global leader in safety standards and positioning ourselves as a centre of excellence for WSH will require us to innovate. We must develop new thinking and create new solutions. This is the next leg of our WSH journey. In nations with more developed WSH frameworks like Germany and Japan, special institutes have been established to carry out these functions. For example, the German Federation for Statutory Accident Insurance and Prevention (HVBG) operates and funds the BG Academy (located in Dresden) which delivers training, research and consultancy services on OSH to all sectors of industry; while Japan’s National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (JNIOSH) actively assesses WSH research needs, conducts researchand disseminates findings.
12. We can take reference from these renowned institutes around the world. My Ministry and the WSH Council have studied these models closely. By the second half of next year, we will establish Singapore’s very own WSH Institute. We have invited local tertiary institutions with a track record in WSH programmes to submit proposals for the formation of this Institute. The national institute willfocus on two key areas. One, it will complement the WSH Professionals Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) framework by enhancing capabilities at the senior management and professional levels through education and training programmes. The Institute will offer postgraduate programmes catering to WSH professionals and specialists as well as executive programmes on WSH management, including courses on WSH leadership and systems. Two, the Institute will develop WSH thought and practice leadership in Singapore and for the region through research and collaboration with WSH experts from around the world. The Institute will look into international best practices to tackle existing and emerging WSH issues. It will not confine itself to just generic solutions, but develop new, contextualised solutions and approaches that address the unique WSH landscape in Singapore and the region.
13. I am confident that the WSH Institute, once established, will serve as the cradle for cutting edge WSH research and innovation in the region. The Institute will allow us to develop professionals who can further improve the best WSH practices at our workplaces. This will raise Singapore’s WSH performance to the next level and position us as a global leader in WSH knowledge and solutions.
14. Our journey towards being a global leader in WSH standards is challenging but worthwhile. We must continue in our efforts to build stronger capabilities to manage WSH to ensure sustainable improvements in our safety standards. With the continued strong commitment by all stakeholders, such as that demonstrated by the award winners here today, I am confident that we can make Singapore safer and healthier, and put us on par with the best in the world with regards to WSH.

 On this note, let me thank all award winners for your relentless effort and dedication to WSH excellence and for keeping workers in Singapore safe. Have a great evening and thank you.