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Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Security at the Opening of the Singapore WSH Conference, 15 Sep 2010

My cabinet colleague, Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Manpower

Dr Sachiko Yamamoto, Regional Director, Asia-Pacific Regional Office, International Labour Organisation

Mr Lee Tzu Yang, Chairman, Workplace Safety and Health Council

Mr Alexander Melchers, Vice-President, Singapore National Employers Federation

Mr Karthikeyan Krishnamurthy, General Secretary, UWPI, National Trades Union Congress

Distinguished speakers and guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning

The Changing WSH Landscape

1  Technological, social and economic changes have brought about tremendous shifts in the workplace safety and health landscape over the past few decades.  On technology, new work activities and processes pose new WSH challenges.  For example, the safety and health impact of nanotechnology on workers is still relatively unknown.  Demographic changes have also thrown up new challenges.  Those economies facing the prospect of an ageing population are starting to look beyond traditional hazards that pose a risk to the safety and health of workers, to factors affecting the "work ability"  of individuals and how long they can remain productive in the workforce.

Improving WSH Outcomes - Critical Elements

2 To tackle these various challenges effectively, we need effective governance, strong partnerships and the ability to push boundaries and frontiers in WSH. 

Effective Governance

3 Effective governance entails establishing a flexible and practical regulatory framework, coupled with effective enforcement.  In the 1970s, we saw a rethink on the approach towards WSH regulation.  Many European countries shifted towards an outcome and performance-based regulatory framework, recognising that prescriptive regulations could not keep up with the rapidly evolving WSH landscape.  More recently, there has been increasing emphasis on smart regulation in WSH.  Governments want regulatory resources employed where they matter most, and have WSH support, rather than stymie, economic competitiveness.

4 In Singapore too, we have made similar shifts.  We have revamped our WSH regulatory framework to focus less on prescriptive measures and activities, and more on outcomes and performance.  We have also strengthened our regulatory requirements for factories, tightening requirements for higher-risk factories while simplifying those for lower-risk ones. 

5 But putting the right framework in place is only the first step.  The system must be implemented sensibly and consistently.  Professional and industry associations that set the standards, as well as regulators and inspectors who enforce them, must provide clarity and certainty to stakeholders on the standards that they will be held to.  This is the only way to build trust in the system, and raise compliance in the long run.

Strong Partnerships

6 Over the years, Singapore stakeholders have created multiple platforms to facilitate close and regular engagements on WSH issues of concern.  At the national level, the tripartite WSH Council brings together stakeholders from the private sector (industry, professional bodies and unions), Government and academia to identify solutions to WSH challenges and opportunities for improvement.  These include standards setting, capability building and promotional efforts.  Key initiatives that the Council has launched include "WSH 2018", Singapore's national strategy for WSH, sectoral plans for major industry sectors such as construction and marine, and industry-led taskforces for priority/high risk areas.

7 The industry associations have also been active in building trust and strengthening WSH performance among their members.  For example, under the Association of Singapore Marine Industries' MIndSET programme, association members agree to have their shipyards scrutinised by their peers.  Companies who are normally business competitors are now WSH partners, proactively helping one another to identify potential blind spots and propose best practices.  This unprecedented initiative sees industry taking ownership for its own regulation, which strengthens collaborative learning and propagates best practices.     

8 Singapore has also been facilitating regional and international WSH partnerships.  Singapore is active in the ASEAN Occupational Safety and Health Network (or ASEAN-OSHNET).  A platform for information dissemination and collaborative initiatives since its establishment a decade ago, one of ASEAN-OSHNET's biggest achievements has been to spearhead the development of a Plan of Action for ASEAN members to strengthen their national WSH frameworks.  The upcoming Singapore WSH Institute will serve as another innovative platform for partnerships with both local and foreign institutions, to build WSH knowledge for Singapore and the region.

9 The Singapore WSH Conference can serve the region, through cross-fertilisation of ideas and generation of new insights from experts, practitioners and policymakers.  Singapore will also host the 2017 World Congress for Safety and Health at Work, which I am told is also the most prestigious international WSH event and largest platform for bringing together WSH stakeholders.  Through these platforms, Singapore hopes to forge strong partnerships - domestically, regionally and internationally. 

Pushing Boundaries and Frontiers

10 Pushing the WSH frontier is essential if Singapore is to reach our goal of bringing our workplace fatality rate to below 1.8 per 100,000 employees by 2018.  Over the past few years, Singapore has been testing different approaches for our capability building and enforcement efforts.  In 2006 for instance, the safety inspectorate moved from a traditional enforcement approach to an integrated combined enforcement with engaging and educating stakeholders.  This new approach, known as Programme-Based Engagement (ProBE), has helped extend the impact and effectiveness of Singapore’s enforcement efforts. 

11 Industry stakeholders too have been trying new approaches to raise their WSH capabilities.  In 2007, the WSH Council introduced the bizSAFE programme.  More than 150 companies have signed on as bizSAFE Partners and pledged to deal with companies that have been certified to have proper risk management procedures in place.  This initiative incentivises companies’ contractors and service providers, especially SMEs engaged by larger companies, to install proper safety systems and protocols.  Some SMEs have reported up to 20 percent business growth since participating in the bizSAFE programme.   Others have integrated the bizSAFE concept into their own business model.  For example, the American Insurance Group (AIG) offers preferential premium rates for work injury compensation insurance to enterprises that have been bizSAFE-certified to have implemented risk management.   

12 At this Conference, it is my hope that we push the frontiers of WSH management from the tackling of new and emerging workplace health challenges, to the development of industry-led partnerships to drive WSH, and the transformation of WSH into an enabler of higher productivity and better performance.  We hope that the Conference will provide participants with new insights to tackle their particular WSH challenges, as well as a platform to potentially forge new partnerships to support their efforts. 


13   Effective governance, strong partnerships, and the willingness to forge new frontiers – all three elements have served Singapore well, and we believe they will continue to do so, but provided we are agile and continue to adapt to the changing environment.  We are encouraged that the Seoul Declaration for Safety and Health at Work, which was concluded at the 2008 World Congress in Seoul, adopts a similar approach in constructing a global culture of safety and health at work.  We also believe that instruments such as the Seoul Declaration are helpful in strengthening cooperation in the regional and international arena.  I am therefore happy to announce that today, the WSH Council, representing Singapore's WSH community, will also be signing the Seoul Declaration, and commit to working within its principles and philosophy. 

14 Thank you, and I wish you a fruitful Conference.