Ask the Commissioner on WSH 2028
Workplace Safety and Health Asia (WSHAsia) has recently interviewed the Commissioner, Mr Silas Sng about Singapore’s national 10-year WSH 2028 strategies and recommendations that were launched in April 2019. Three main strategies are: Strengthening WSH ownership among employers and workers; Enhancing focus on workplace health; and promoting technology-enabled WSH. Below, are Mr Sng’s exclusive answers for the questions sent in on the WSH 2028 strategies.
- How are Singapore’s workplace safety and health standards? Has the number of workplace accidents reduced over the years?
Singapore has done well in reducing our workplace fatality and injury rates over the years. We stepped up enforcement, engagement and promotional efforts as well as deployed resources to build industry capabilities to better manage workplace safety and health (WSH). We have reduced the workplace fatal injury rate from 4.9 per 100,000 workers in 2004 to 1.2 per 100,000 workers in 2018. This remarkable progress was made possible through the collective efforts of government agencies, employers, unions, industry leaders, associations as well as many WSH professionals. Our aim is to further reduce and sustain Singapore’s workplace fatal injury rate at less than 1.0 per 100,000 workers by 2028. This is not an easy feat. Among OECD countries, only four have achieved this consistently.
- How can we further improve Singapore’s WSH standards? How will WSH 2028 help?
In the WSH 2028 report, there is a statement which says: “…the level of ownership for WSH by all stakeholders has to move beyond “basic” to be global-leading – this is the only sure foundation for sustained improvements in WSH”. This statement resonates with me greatly. While MOM and the WSH Council will continue to push for better WSH standards and performance, every boss and every worker must also take ownership of WSH in order to prevent accidents at work. This is why the WSH 2028 Tripartite Strategies Committee put forth recommendations to make WSH more salient in business decisions, in addition to strengthening WSH ownership among company directors, top management and workers.
Healthy and fit workers can concentrate better and work safely. Thus, we have designed the second WSH 2028 strategy to be forward-looking by focusing on workplace health. This is not just about how a work environment or process can cause the worker to become ill, but also about how the poor health conditions of a worker can potentially contribute to workplace accidents and injuries. For instance, a worker with poorly controlled chronic illnesses could lose consciousness while operating machinery, putting himself and others at risk. Employers must do their part to promote workers’ health by putting in place workplace programmes such as exercise sessions and health screening.
Beyond these challenges, the emergence of technological solutions presents an opportunity to help solve WSH problems. Many technological solutions which enhance business productivity can also enhance WSH and vice versa. Hence I encourage stakeholders to embrace such technologies – it is good for both your business and workers.
- Why doesn’t MOM mandate more? E.g. mandating bizSAFE, minimum worker experience, etc?
High penalties, strong enforcement presence, and prosecution efforts have served us well over the years and have no doubt contributed to our significant improvements in the past. However, we should not be relying solely on regulatory powers, which will result in a never-ending cat-and-mouse game. Mandating bizSAFE may achieve compliance but not the desired outcome of WSH ownership. Companies must be intrinsically motivated to make their workplaces safer and healthier.
- Will the WSH 2028 strategies be costly?
Some of the WSH 2028 recommendations are designed to have an impact on the businesses of the less safe companies. For example, companies with more accidents will pay higher insurance premiums for their work injury compensation. Their WSH performance will also be made transparent, allowing service buyers to be more discerning in the selection of service providers.
The simple message is that good WSH is good for business. If your company has a good WSH performance, the WSH 2028 recommendations will not be costly for you.
- What is the strategy to reduce stress and improve mental health and well-being in the workplace, particularly in offices?
Currently, our strategy is to raise awareness among employers about mental health of their employees and provide them with necessary training and support. To help companies identify workplace stressors for better management, we have developed a psychosocial health assessment tool (www.iworkhealth.sg) that companies can use.
Beyond the above, I would like to make three points to set the context:
1. First, avoid villainising work. There are many stressors in life that can lead to poor mental health, and excessive workplace stress is but one of them. In fact, in some circumstances, work can serve as a useful form of therapy.
2. Second, avoid medicalising the mental health agenda at the workplace. If an employee suffers from anxiety or depression, he should be seeking medical help. But there are many things that an organisation can do to promote mental wellness at the workplace without involving a doctor. This includes providing regular communications of organisational changes. At the workplace, the root of the issue are more organisational rather than medical in nature.
3. Third, recognise that there is a wide spectrum of mental illnesses and people with different conditions have different capacities to work. What this means is that at the company level, you will need to have different strokes for different folks.
- How can we encourage better communication between management and workers so as to align the vision to enhance WSH in the workplace?
Simply put, management must “walk the talk” and workers must “see the walk” and not just “hear the talk”.
To share a real story, I met a company’s management team after a serious accident happened at their workplace. They assured me with their “talk” that they had put in place interventions to prevent a recurrence of the accident. But during the meeting, it became apparent that they had sent their WSH officer to do all the “talk” on the ground. The workers did not see their bosses taking part in management walkabouts at all! I told them this will not do.
Communication is not just about the broadcasting of rules, standard operating procedures, messages, or even WSH programmes. Effective WSH communication is one where the commitment of the leadership team is felt and their ownership made visible to the workers.
- How can we ensure that both large enterprises and SMEs can benefit from use of technology? Does technology pose additional risks?
We are working with various agencies and partners to integrate market-ready WSH technologies into the sector’s Industry Digital Plan. These solutions will cater to the needs of both large enterprises as well as SMEs. Our aim is to promote pervasive adoption of WSH technology.
On the additional risks that the new technology may pose, I am of the view that it is more important to address what we should do:
1. First, the market ready solutions should not introduce obvious WSH risks;
2. Second, for risks that are less obvious, the approach is to conduct prototyping before rolling out to industry;
3. Lastly, notwithstanding the above, we should still keep an eye on the technology when it is used. One particular area is the receptivity of the users to the new technology especially for wearable technologies.