SINGAPORE - Minister of State for Manpower and Health Amy Khor said: "I hope this study goes some way in convincing businesses that they need to improve safety and health outcomes for Singapore and our workers." She was speaking at the annual WSH Awards at Marina Bay Sands on Tuesday night.
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Here is Dr Khor's speech in full:
Good evening. I am indeed delighted to join all of you at this Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Awards. My warmest congratulations once again to all the winners. As WSH Council Chairman Mr Lee emphasised earlier, we are now halfway on our journey towards the WSH 2018 vision. Many challenges lie ahead of us, but all of us here will play an important role in helping to realise that vision.
Many of the winners today have shown that you can protect your businesses and employees through excellent WSH practices. Unfortunately, we have also seen a fair share of accidents caused by the converse. Such disregard for safety not only affects the well-being of individuals and businesses, it also impacts on our country's growth, economy and reputation.
Globally, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that the 2.3 million work accidents and diseases yearly have resulted in the loss of a staggering USD$2.8 trillion or 4 per cent of the annual global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Studies done in other countries paint a similar picture - United States lost an equivalent of 1.8 per cent of its GDP in 2007, while Australia lost 4.8 per cent of its GDP for Fiscal Year 2008 to 2009.
Singapore's WSH Institute conducted a similar study based on WSH statistics from 2011. Findings indicate that work-related injuries and ill health in 2011 resulted in estimated direct medical costs, productivity loss, human loss to society and potential future earnings foregone for the companies and workers concerned amounting to some $10.5 billion. Costs borne by employers alone were around $2.3 billion, with staff turnover, training and loss of worker output contributing to the bulk of the loss.
These figures tell us that countries cannot afford to neglect safety and health as to do so will undermine their ability to create a vibrant and stable economy that can provide good and safe jobs for their citizens. Businesses will bear the brunt of a poor safety record. They will be badly affected and disrupted by accidents. Lives will be lost and workers injured. I hope this study goes some way in convincing businesses that they need to improve safety and health outcomes for Singapore and our workers. It is in their self-interest to do so.
Working collaboratively to help workers
From the study, we also found that health issues or work-related diseases can lead to productivity loss. Health and safety are closely intertwined - while work hazards can affect a worker's health, his health condition can also affect his ability to work safely. Earlier, Mr Lee spoke about the need for 'change'. I fully agree. For example, more attention had traditionally been paid to workplace safety. We should start to make changes - by paying equal attention to workplace health.
In fact, health becomes more critical as the demographic profile of our workforce changes. We have an ageing population. Employers not only need to ensure that their workplaces are friendly and safe for older persons, but they also need to take care of their health. For example, the use of ergonomic workstations will help our older workers to do their jobs better. The Health Promotion Board (HPB) recognises the physical and emotional challenges that can affect the mental wellbeing of older workers and, in turn, their productivity. Therefore, it is working closely with employers and partners to improve the accessibility of workplace health4 programmes for older workers. Recently, HPB announced that companies can apply through the National Trades Union Congress or Singapore National Employers Federation for the WorkPro's Age Management Grant to receive advice on recommended health programmes for older workers. In fact, we should aspire to go one step further and ensure that all our workers are able to work and retire healthily, by implementing measures to protect them from the outset.
Where workplace safety and health are concerned, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Ministry of Health (MOH) collaborate closely with each other. I suppose this is probably one of the reasons why the organisers asked me to be Guest-of-Honour tonight, since I wear both hats. One recent example of how the ambit of both ministries overlap is the issue of medical leave for injured workers. We have received feedback highlighting that medical practitioners have not issued adequate medical leave days to injured workers according to the nature and severity of their injuries. There are also some employers asking for workers' medical leave to be broken up to avoid reporting work accidents. These practices can inadvertently obscure the actual severity of the accidents that have occurred. In addition, we will not be able to get an accurate picture of the reality on the ground.
To address this, MOM and MOH sent a joint circular to medical practitioners in June and reminded them to ensure that workers receive adequate and continuous medical leave. Subsequently, the WSH Council also sent an e-bulletin to remind employers to be responsible and not influence medical practitioners in the issuance of medical leave so that their workers can get the rest that they need.
MOM has also reviewed the legal definition of a reportable accident and will change the reporting requirement under the WSH (Incident Reporting) Regulations and Work Injury Compensation Act. The current regulation requires employers to report all work-related accidents that result in an employee being unfit for work for more than three consecutive days. We plan to amend that to three days in total instead, removing the need for the leave to be continuous before being reported. The change is expected to take effect early next year.
WSH Award winners show the way
To address both workplace safety and health issues effectively, we need the support of all stakeholders. Let me share with you how some of the Award winners have successfully done so.
Multiheight Scaffolding Pte Ltd, a local SME and WSH Performance Silver Award winner, has consistently ensured zero reportable accidents in their projects since 2008. Besides having good safety systems in place, Multiheight also takes care of its workers' health. For example, workers are provided with water bottles and accessible water points at the worksites to prevent heat stress. In addition, workers are given adequate rest to prevent fatigue and fruits to help them stay healthy.
Another winner is Mr Neo Ser Hock, a supervisor with Cameron (Singapore) Pte Ltd. Mr Neo gets regular feedback from his workers on existing WSH practices, and refines these to ensure that the health and well-being of his workers are managed properly. His company Cameron has an Employee Wellness Programme, which provides all employees with wellness assessments to ensure that they remain healthy and take measures to maintain or improve their health. The programme provides a detailed analysis of the worker's health based on physical activity, weight, nutrition intake, stress level, sleep, lifestyle, medical health and job satisfaction. In his six years as a supervisor, Mr Neo has found that, when employees are encouraged to stay healthy and work safely, production downtime falls and productivity increases.
Helping companies come on board
These winners have shown us that safety and health play a pivotal role in the success of their businesses. But we know that some companies, especially SMEs, may find it a challenge to incorporate WSH into their processes. The WSH Council has several resources to help companies get started on WSH. Its Go-To engagements, which involve door-to-door visits, have provided simplified guides and checklists to some 1,000 companies. The WSH Assist programme, launched this year, co-funds WSH consultants to help SMEs develop action plans to address WSH risks in their workplaces. Companies can also find many online learning resources on the Council's website. So, resources are available to help companies, but they must first have the will to do the right things for their workers.
The journey to keeping workers safe and healthy is a long and continuous one. We need to stay on course to fulfil our responsibility to every worker. I trust that employers in Singapore are in one accord on this important issue.
Let me, in closing, congratulate all our winners again and urge everyone here to continue your good efforts to make Singapore a safe and healthy workplace for everyone. Have a most pleasant evening ahead. Thank you very much!