SINGAPORE - Workers at national water agency PUB regularly inspect about 90,000 manholes islandwide.
This involves lifting the heavy manhole cover to enter a confined space to check on the conditions of pipes, which could contain sewage and methane gas, said senior engineer for joint operations Ken Tan, president of the PUB Employees' Union.
Similarly, Keppel Fels is also using technology, like a robotic diver to do hazardous underwater inspections, in place of workers to lower its accident frequency rate, save costs and boost employees' morale.
The two organisations were among five winners in the new "champion category", for unionised companies that drive workplace safety and health initiatives, at NTUC's U Safe Forum and Awards on Monday (Nov 11).
The Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union, Housing and Development Board Staff Union and Public Utilities Board Employees' Union were lauded for being key advocates of workplace safety and health (WSH) in their organisations.
Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, who presented the awards, said in a speech that union leaders have been instrumental in getting support from employers and workers for national WSH initiatives.
For instance, more than half of unionised companies have achieved at least BizSafe Level 3 and have implemented effective risk management plans, compared with just one in 10 non-unionised companies.
BizSafe is a tiered framework to certify the robustness of companies' risk management systems and recommend ways to improve them.
Besides joining the programme, firms can also identify training gaps and equip staff with useful safety knowledge through company training committees that the unions are setting up with company managers, said Mr Zaqy at the event at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong East.
"I encourage the unions to continue championing progressive WSH practices among employers," he said, addressing about 500 guests including union leaders, safety officers and company and government representatives.
"This can take the form of adopting systematic reporting of near misses, empowering workers to stop work when they detect risky situations, and appointing WSH representatives to identify and mitigate risks," he said.
NTUC assistant secretary-general Desmond Choo said technology in tandem with better training can help to fill the gap amid a lean manpower environment, so that companies can make workplaces safer without increasing their headcount.
One of the three small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that received an award was Fong's Engineering and Manufacturing, which completed a year-long revamp earlier this year to improve work process and safety.
Fong's director for operations excellence Ting Eeng Hoe said besides redesigning the factory floor, it now follows a 6S system, which covers the Japanese principles of keeping the work environment neat and organised and adds a sixth principle of safety.
Every month, its in-house WSH committee checks the factory site according to these principles.
As part of the revamp, the green, oily factory floor was changed to white for easy spotting of oil stains. The company also added machines to catch oil mist from the production line and to pump in fresh air and remove stale air every five hours.
Since July, its productivity has risen 30 per cent increase and workers are more aware of safety, said Mr Ting.
"When you have a better environment, people are more motivated to do the job. At the end of the day, it will help you attract new employees and new customers," he added.