Singapore aiming for zero workplace accidents, but change in mindset needed

Every incident of injury and ill-health due to work is preventable, business leaders and workplace safety and health (WSH) officers were told in a forum on Wednesday. -- ST FILE PHOTO:  KUA CHEE SIONG
Every incident of injury and ill-health due to work is preventable, business leaders and workplace safety and health (WSH) officers were told in a forum on Wednesday. -- ST FILE PHOTO:  KUA CHEE SIONG

Every incident of injury and ill-health due to work is preventable, business leaders and workplace safety and health (WSH) officers were told in a forum on Wednesday.

"There is an urgency to turn around the mindset and thinking that it is somehow 'okay' for people to get injured or killed at the workplace or in fact, that this is even expected of some work activities," said Mr Lee Tzu Yang, chairman of the WSH Council, who gave the opening address of a WSH Institute forum called The Next WSH Frontier.

The idea of aiming for zero workplace accidents is called Vision Zero. This has already been implemented in other countries like the United Kingdom and Germany, and the WSH Institute hopes to see how such a concept could apply to workplaces here. Dr Jukka Takala, executive director of the WSH Institute, told The Straits Times that the priority should be to target practices that would give companies immediate financial, safety and health impacts. One example is proper housekeeping at construction sites, which would improve productivity and safety at the same time.

Mr Kevin Myers, acting chief executive of the United Kingdom's Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who was speaking at the forum at Furama City Centre Hotel, shared that the venues and infrastructure for last year's London 2012 Olympics were completed with zero fatalities, even after 80 million hours of work over three years by a total of 46,000 people. Fewer than 150 injuries were reported, he said which put the accident frequency rate below the average across all industries in the UK, despite construction typically being a high-risk industry.

Achieving this took a lot of planning even before any construction started, Mr Myers said: "It requires a lot of investment, it requires cultural change over a long period of time." He added that the HSE worked with planners and designers of the five new permanent venues, 30 bridges, 11 residential blocks and other construction projects to intervene early rather than rely only on site inspections to catch problems.

In Singapore's statistics for the first half of 2013, which were released by the WSH Institute last week, the number of workplace fatalities was down to 25, from 26 in the same period last year. The injury rate fell to 194 injuries for every 100,000 workers, down from 207 per every 100,000 a year ago.