Courting safety

Priya de Langen 10 Dec 2012

In the first half of 2012, Singapore’s construction sector saw nine workplace deaths and 5,273 reportable workplace injuries. Some of the tragic incidents made headlines including the collapse of the formwork structure at the Bugis Downtown Line station, which led to the deaths of two workers, both Chinese nationals.

As a result, the government is stepping up its efforts in workplace safety checks (see side box), especially in the construction sector. Experts say organisations are following the Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSH) guidelines on providing safe working environments but management bodies also need to take a personal hand in reinforcing safety at work.

James Foo, Director of HR, Mövenpick Heritage Hotel Sentosa, says: “A well-designed and well-managed workplace safety (plan) is paramount to any organisation. Not only do we need to ensure our employees are safe at work, we also need to ensure our hotel’s guests, patrons and visitors are equally safe when they visit our hotel.”

Incorporating a safety culture

Employers in all sectors of the economy need to ensure safe working environments. Though heavy industries such as construction and marine and shipping have a higher share of workplace accidents and incidents, office incidents too have come under the spotlight.

According to the Workplace Safety and Health Report Jan-Jun 2012, the top three incident types that accounted for 56.3% of all minor workplace injuries were “slips, trips and falls” (22.8%), “being struck by moving objects” (20.8%), and “being struck by falling objects” (12.7%).

Experts realise that educating employees and employers, as well as setting up safety councils, are two key strategies when it comes to ensuring a safe working environment. Workplace safety and health (WSH) should be the responsibility of all stakeholders, say experts.

“While employers are a crucial component in the WSH equation, workplace safety is the responsibility of each and every person. Increasing WSH awareness should be a continual effort at all levels,” says Seet Choh San, President, Singapore Institution of Safety Officers (SISO).

He adds that WSH awareness should start from the top, and a personal touch from senior management often goes a long way. “Employers can take greater personal interest in the safety culture of their teams,” Seet said. “Make effort to find out who did well in safety and compliment them when you walk the site.

“Employer’s WSH attitudes are also important. If an employer’s belief is that WSH is just as important as getting the job done, it will show in the attitude.”

Many companies have set up in-house WSH committees to monitor and track workplace safety. Foo of Mövenpick Heritage Hotel Sentosa, says: “Organisations not only need to educate their employees, but a WSH committee needs to be set up to ensure the WSH guidelines are followed and enforce policies to target zero accidents.”

The hotel has a WSH committee, comprised of employees from various departments, that monitors WSH policies. Foo adds that the hotel developed safety policies alongside its hotel guidelines and WSH standards. Also, there is an employee handbook to indicate the importance of WSH during the orientation programme for all new hires.

The hotel’s HR team also works with the WSH committee and security department to keep all safety records on every incident, and action plans to ensure there is appropriate follow-through for all incidents. Foo says possible preventive measures are then discussed and staff involved are briefed, counselled and educated. The hotel also ensures that information on safety issues is disseminated to all stuff, through meetings, notice boards and briefings.

Workplace safety is particularly essential in the healthcare sector, something the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) recognises through all of its HR practices. “The SingHealth Quality Priorities or SPREE - Safety, Professionalism, Respect, Experience and Efficiency - serve as signposts to guide all staff in putting our patients at the heart of all we do,” says Soh Kit Chew, Director, Projects and Alternate Chairperson, Safety Network Committee, SGH. “Safety is the first point, and ‘safety’ refers to all parties in the hospital – staff, patients, and visitors”.

Soh says that training and communication are essential in building a positive WSH culture within the hospital’s community. Its programmes target different groups of staff based on their workplace risk and legal responsibilities. The issue of safety is highlighted to employees from the beginning – new workers are briefed on WSH during general orientation and are individually briefed by their managers and supervisors on the WSH hazards and risk control measures at their specific workplace, explains Soh.

Also, the organisation emphasises safety in various ways – safety charts are customised to specific activities and are placed at locations were those risks are highest. Moreover, WSH messages are reinforced though safety surveys and WSH incident investigations visits by the hospital’s Safety Network.

Training for safety

Safety training also plays an essential part in helping organisations and employees understand standards, Seet of SISO, says. That group has worked with more than 300 organisations from a wide range of industries that include bio-medical, retail and construction sectors on safety training.

Seet recommends two courses in particular. “SISO’s Risk Management Course and the Safety Committee Member’s Course are two courses that employers should consider for their organisations,” he says. “(The) Risk Management Course has recently been rewritten to align with the Code of Practice for WSH Risk Management,” he adds.

He says that SISO also conducts specialist courses, such as the Accident Investigation and Safety Inspection programme which is useful for helping in-house talent become WSH coordinators. “On successful completion, the in-house talents will graduate with the Advanced Certificate in WSH and the Specialist Diploma in WSH respectively.”

SGH conducts in-house WSH courses, including a five-minute video on staff responsibilities with respect to WSH that is shown at general orientation, says Soh. The hospital also has a training roadmap that identifies programmes for different groups of employees, including staff from departments such as laboratories. There are also specific courses for employees on working with biological agents, chemicals and radiation.

Foo of Mövenpick says training is necessary for key management staff, department supervisors, and members of the WSH committee. It helps “to equip employees with better knowledge and ensure they are able to assist during emergencies and crises,” he says.


More inspections at construction sector

The Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate (OSHI) recently announced that it will be stepping up surprise inspections at all worksites in the country.

These inspections will focus on three main work activities, namely demolition, formwork, and working at heights, but will also cover other workplace safety and health measures.

This is aimed at addressing the recent spate of six serious construction-related accidents over the past month, which have resulted in five fatalities and several injuries. The accidents include a fire at the East Village Hotel worksite that resulted in 11 injured workers, and the collapse of the formwork structure at the Bugis Downtown Line station, which led to the deaths of two workers, both Chinese nationals.

Preliminary investigations by MOM have shown that both accidents were due to failures to implement control measures, as well as inadequate supervision of work.

Kevin Teoh, Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate said the accidents could have been prevented if each stakeholder had made greater effort to assess the risks as well as check and review procedures before carrying out work.


The WSH vision for 2018

The Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSHC), alongside the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) have drafted Safety and Health guidelines for 2018, guidelines that spell out the vision of “a safe and healthy workplace for everyone”, and the strategic outcomes and strategies required to achieve the this vision. The WSH 2018 goal is to achieve one of the best safety records in the world by bringing down the national fatality rate to less than 1.8 per 100,000 workers.


The safety officer’s role

“A Workplace Safety and Health Officer (WSHO) is the catalyst that helps organisations build strong Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) systems and guides the organisation to maintain them. Being conversant in WSH, they support, coach, and direct an organisation’s staff in strengthening the organisation’s WSH culture,” explains Seet Choh San, President, Singapore Institution of Safety Officers (SISO).

He adds that a WSHO is trained to identify hazards and risks at the workplace, and put in place a comprehensive WSH programme to manage and mitigate them. The WSHO also helps educate employees on the importance of WSH and promote the adoption of good WSH practices.


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