IOSH magazine: Hello, and welcome to the IOSH magazine podcast. Today we are speaking with Aliasman Morshidi. Aliasman has been an IOSH remember for many years and was recently confirmed as one of the vice presidents of the Malaysian Society of Occupational Safety and Health. Aliasman is passionate about enhancing competencies and improving standards for OSH professionals in Malaysia, and helping harmonise Malaysian professional standards with that of other countries. So Aliasman, thank you very much for joining us today.
AM: Thank you very much for the invitation.
IOSH magazine: So, before we go any further, tell us a little about your background and your experience in health and safety.
AM: OK, let me see. I was born in Kuching, in one of the states in Malaysia, on the Borneo island and I graduated in the late 1990s with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Institute of Queensland, Australia. Later, I pursued my MBA at the local university in Malaysia. I've been working for more than 20 years in different industries, such as construction, manufacturing, oil and gas and my last position was the senior manager and head of department of the HSE department in one of the aerospace parts manufacturer in Malaysia.
Currently, I’m a technical IOSH member, but I'm also a specialist member of the International Institute of Business Safety Management. And of course, as you mentioned just now, I've become the Vice President of MSOSH for the term 2020 to 2022. Before this, I've been involved in OSH organisations for the past 13 years, where I was the Vice President of the NRG-SHE Association based in Penang for 10 years, that was from 2009 to 2018.
IOSH magazine: So tell us then about how occupational safety and health, and the perception of it in Malaysia has changed in the last decade and perhaps in the time you've been a professional in this sector.
AM: OK, this is a very interesting question actually. For those who are not Malaysians, we are one of the Commonwealth countries with the UK. And actually we had a Malaysian Occupational Safety and Health Act enacted back in 1994. It is a step regulation approach act, similar to the UK Health and Safety Act 1974. But in Malaysia, there are two main legislations that relate occupational safety and health - namely the Factories and Machinery Act 1967 and the latest one that we have right now is the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994. The main objective of both legislations is to ensure the health and welfare of workers at the workplace, as well as ensure the safety of public in the vicinity of the workplace.
But recently, there's a new law, which has already been tabled to the parliament two months ago, in November 2020. The law is the Occupational Safety and Health Bill amendment 2020, where the major amendments among others are to improve the certification system and also the development of the competent person – for example, like effective professional and also competent person – and also to control the approved training providers for the competent person in Malaysia.
So we are waiting for this law because the last one that we have was 1994. Hopefully with this new law, there will be a major changes especially around the competency of OSH practitioners in Malaysia. So, those are the major changes that we have right now.
And at the same time, for the past 15 years, the accident rate monitored by the authorities in the Department of Occupational Safety and Health [DOSH] has reduced 46% [fatality rate] and the accident rate reduced to 53%. So for the past 15 years – almost two decades – we have managed to reduce almost 50% of the fatality and also the accident rate in Malaysia.
IOSH magazine: OK, so good things are happening, that's for sure.
AM: Yes, yes. It’s true.
IOSH magazine: For new people coming into the sector, how do they start a career in health and safety in Malaysia, and what is the current pathway to becoming a health and safety officer?
AM: OK, in Malaysia there is a very clear process flow defined in the Occupational Safety and Health (Safety and Health Officer) Regulations 1997, on how you can become a competent certified safety and health officer. Actually, it's a very strict, to the point, in the instance of qualifications. You need a minimum of High School Certificate; [you need to have] attended a safety and health officer course, with the approved training provided by the authority, in this case is DOSH; and then the official candidates need to pass an official assessment and gain a minimum of two years’ industrial experience before they can register as a safety and health officer with the authority.
I started my career as a process/equipment engineer – I was not a safety and health officer before this. But not long after I obtained my first degree, I started my involvement in OSH when I was nominated by my supervisor at the time to become the emergency response team member. At the same time, my boss asked me to become a safety and health committee member. From there, my interest in OSH was developed and I had an opportunity to become a safety engineer-cum-safety and health officer at my previous organisation. Besides that, I was also exposed to [experiences of] the Factory Mutual Insurance, Risk Management and Radiation Protection Officer, and also the establishment of OSH management system in place. I became a full time OSH practitioner in 2002 and I haven't looked back ever since, actually, for the past 20 years.
IOSH magazine: So now you're a vice president of MSOSH, what plans do you have and does MSOSH have for health and safety in Malaysia? And what challenges do you see in the in the near future and how are you going to tackle them?
AM: OK, honestly, when I joined MSOSH back in 2014, we could foresee that the demand for OSH practitioners or safety and health officers from industry was becoming very challenging. So that's why, when I was elected as one of the committee members back in 2015 – and once again when I become a management committee member in 2018 – I did propose to ensure that we come up with what we call a four-year strategy to be part of an MSOSH commitment to support the OSHMP 2021-2025 – the OSH Master Plan in Malaysia. In terms of the programmes for MSOSH members and also for OSH practitioner committee, it was 2018 when we came up with the strategies.
So when I was elected as the vice president in 2020, I just continued the MSOSH strategy 2021, what we call the four-year strategy, where we focus on six key strategies. The first one is on OSH leadership. The second one focused on OSH professionalism. And the third one, we are focusing on sustainability and also [fourth] networking. The fifth one is the industrial hygiene and occupational health reinforcement. And the last one, is OSH international networking. So these are the six key strategies that we lay out as the foundation of the MSOSH strategies 2018 to 2021.
Besides that, what we did was, we also established a new objective as an NGO, where we focus on six [further] elements. So there are six elements, the first one is the capabilities of the OSH practitioners and the professional, this what we call ‘professionalism’. The second one is the proactiveness of the OSH practitioners in terms of participation of OSH issues locally and also internationally. We also focus on the welfare of MSOSH members. And we try to promote ethical values among the members. We try to promote and develop leadership among the members of MSOSH. And lastly, enhanced competency through continuous education and learning as part of professional development. So it’s more on how we keep improving ourselves to ensure that we are equipped with the latest trends and also the latest knowledge related to safety. They are the main things that we're doing right now.
Currently, we are working closely with the authorities on the new Occupational Safety and Health Master Plan for Malaysia 2021 to 2025. So that is the current responsibility that we have right now, and hopefully we can really contribute positively to the OSH contribution in Malaysia.
IOSH magazine: Great, OK, well, let's pick apart a few of those elements then. If we talk first about the international collaboration, I know MSOSH and IOSH have been working together on certain things such as benchmarking, can you tell us a little bit more about what you're doing in terms of that that international collaboration?
AM: OK, this one, what we call the MSOSH/OSH competency framework, to tell you the truth, it was initiated after I came back from the World Congress on Safety and Health, that was 2017 in Singapore. So I attended a conference in Singapore back in 2017. And then, when I was elected onto the management committee of MSOSH, I did propose to MSOSH management committee members in 2018 about the importance for us to establish an OSH competency framework for OSH practitioners in Malaysia. Honestly, we didn't have a real OSH competency framework in Malaysia at the time.
So, we did a benchmarking where we went to Singapore in 2018. And we did discuss with the Singapore Workplace Safety and Health – that is under the Ministry of Manpower – and also the Singapore Institute of Safety and Health Officers - this is another organisation for safety and health officers in Singapore. They shared with us their 10-year plan, actually, for 2018 to 2028. So, at the time, we were really impressed on the future planning for the OSH profession’s development in Singapore.
And then we did some benchmarking also with Singapore Accord 2017. Yes, we did compare it with the IOSH Competency Framework 2019. And I also, on behalf of MSOSH, compared it with the Board of Certified Safety Professionals in the US. And I also did a comparison with the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management’s Risk Management and Leadership Competence Framework.
So we did do a lot of benchmarking to ensure that the current OSH competency framework that we proposed to the authorities in Malaysia is actually on par with other practices around the world. That’s also why we founded an MoU with IOSH back in 2018, to ensure that we can see any potential collaboration between MSOSH and IOSH to develop our OSH practitioners in Malaysia.
IOSH magazine: Wonderful. OK. Now, another element you mentioned there was about improving education and continual professional development. What do you see hampering professionals, safety professionals in Malaysia, from doing that continual professional development and how are you planning to encourage them?
AM: OK, this is very interesting question actually. Honestly, if you ask me, in terms of the OSH professional development in Malaysia, I think this is the first time we have done it, because the current practitioners education development, actually is based on the competent person. In Malaysia, for your information, we have roughly around 68,000 individuals who are competent person. And there are 90 [different types of ] competent person [roles] that are registered under the authorities. This includes safety and health officers, industrial hygienists, occupational health doctors, and at the same time there are other technical inspectors that are also registered with DOSH, up to November 2020.
Yes, of course, DOSH recognises the importance of these competent persons and that’s why they are part of the OSH Master Plan 2025. DOSH is currently finalising the Occupational Safety and Health Master Plan for 2021 to 2025 and this master plan is designed to boost the national OSH to a higher level to protect the country's human resources, so that's why we need more competent persons to assist the employees. And of course, under this strategy, the authorities – that is DOSH – have come up with a programme that is focusing on increasing numbers and competencies, capabilities and effectiveness of the OSH competent person, as well as OSH professionals in Malaysia.
Furthermore, right now DOSH is trying their best to review the act, where DOSH is planning to integrate the existing Malaysia skills accreditation system that is currently governed by the Department of Skills Development, as part of registration and certification of OSH competent persons, and also for training purposes. What it means is, soon, the OSH competent person and professional will need to comply and also meet the requirement by the national skill standards, and also the academic qualification standards. So this is really a big, big improvement that is part of the next OSH Master Plan 2025. MSOSH is also involved and has participated actively with the consultant and also DOSH in the development of this Master Plan.
The most important thing right now, for the OSH community professional framework, is that we need a source of power. That means that we need the authority to recognise OSH professionals and what we want to do right now is to promote and encourage educational institutions and also industries to participate, to establish the first national OSH competency professional framework for reference for other industries in the future. So those are the real directions that we have right now.
IOSH magazine: Right, OK, wonderful. That's very exciting, isn't it? It’s a lot of work I’m sure, but still very exciting. One thing I must ask you is about, I see that you're responsible for leading the MSOSH Academy. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how that works?
AM: OK, this, is my additional task and responsibility given by the president of MSOSH. One of the many MSOSH strategies as I mentioned to you earlier, is to develop professionalism among our members. So that's why when MSOSH established the academy, the main reason is that we want to produce more OSH professionals with the specific qualifications, skills and knowledge that they must adapt and that will suit with industrial needs. So what the MSOSH Academy will do is, we will develop what we call a technical expert panel as the initial key team to assist me, or to assist the academy in establishing a term of reference on new OSH competency for professional development.
It means that we are trying to work closely with the authorities and we are trying to convince the authorities why we need the OSH professionals in the current situation that we have right now, instead of just focusing on the competent person, because there are a lot of changes in the working environments right now. There are different types of challenges. So that's why we need more expert or technical personnel, so that people can recognise them as an OSH professional and, hopefully, OSH will be on par with other professions, for example, like the engineers, like technologies, like the lawyers. When we can talk with the same language with these [other] professional members, hopefully we can put the OSH professional on par with other professionals in Malaysia. So that is the idea of MSOSH Academy, as part of the strategy that we want to do, as part of the academy’s missions.
IOSH magazine: I was just thinking, how much do you think your engineering background has allowed you to perhaps look at the health and safety in a slightly different way from people who had purely done health and safety?
AM: OK. That's why my background is quite unique. When I graduated as an engineer, the way I see a problem is that we have to solve the problem. The problem is a problem.
But when we talk about safety, we're not just talking about the technical problems in terms of process safety, in terms of the machinery safety, in terms of anything related to engineering. But the biggest challenges for me, when I'm handling safety, is not purely on the technical part, they are purely more on the human part. And they are the most challenging part as we know. If you can see the statistics around the world, most of the accidents are more due to the human part, more due to the unsafe act, human errors, human factors. No matter how good the design from the engineering point of view, we still need to handle the human factors part.
So that's why when you ask me in terms of how my engineering background can really help me to see safety from different angles, instead of just focusing on the technical part, it should blend together how we should manage safety, holistically and inclusively by combining the human parts, and also the technical parts, to ensure that we can prevent or we can minimise accidents in the workplace.
IOSH magazine: OK, of all the things you've done so far in health and safety, what are you most proud of ? What's been your greatest achievement so far?
AM: Oh, this is very interesting. My greatest this achievement? So far, I have been exposed to many available OSH experiences. That means I've been involved in the operational part, I've been involved in the technical, I’ve been involving the management, I have also been involved in project management. And at the same time, actually, I also have had the opportunity to work in different industries and different countries. I’ve worked with Japanese companies, I’ve worked with Canadian companies, German companies, and also the local companies.
So I think, based on the best story of my career, if you are exposed to different industries, to different fields of safety management, at the end you are more able to see where you can get the reduction of accidents in the workplace, and where you can get the buy-off from the top management, where you can get the buy-off from the middle management and also the employees, and show why safety is important. Instead of us keep doing more enforcement and pushing the importance of safety from a compliance point of view, for me [the important thing] is how you can really approach them and explain to them why safety is important, not just from the business perspective, not just from the legal perspective, but it's more based on a values approach.
I think that is the best story I can share with you. And, so far, during the past 20 years, I have experienced one fatality accident during construction. It actually became an eye-opener for me that managing safety is part of the continuous improvement for you to ensure that you will try your best to reduce or prevent any accidents happening at the workplace.
IOSH magazine: Talking of continuous development for you, what would you like to develop and what skills do you think you're going to develop in your vice president role?
AM: If you ask me in terms of very specific skills, or any specific knowledge, or instances for me to develop in the vice president role right now, for me there are a few skills needed in assisting my current tasks. I'm not dealing with employers right now, I'm actually more dealing with the authorities, dealing with specific OSH stakeholders – for example, the employees’ federations and associations, the unions, other NGOs. So for me, there are some critical skills that I need to have, as part of my approach to sharpen my skills to convince them why safety is important, there are a few of them, so I can list them.
One of them is the leadership skills. I cannot deny that leadership is very important. And at the same time, we are talking about strategic thinking. So how can we really think strategically in terms that really explain the importance of safety to the different OSH stakeholders. An interesting one: right now a very important skill for me is risk-based thinking, [especially] in the current situation of COVID-19 pandemic and in the current situation of the unstable political situation of the government that we have right now in Malaysia. At the same time, [I need to do more around] understanding different cultures; more on organisational behaviour; more on what we call right now – a new term – the psychological safety of the organisation. And I think one of the other important critical skills for me is effective communications and also legislations with the relevant parties.
I think these are the key skills that I think I need to sharpen as the vice president. And I cannot deny that I am still learning right now, but due to the big exposure I have in approaching these different parties or different stakeholders, actually it has sharpened my skills in terms of more towards a collaboration approach. I think really, it's not just from books, but actually you need to learn from the environment, and learn it fast!
IOSH magazine: Well, you mentioned COVID-19 there and the chance to learn in work and in the environment must be somewhat disrupted by COVID-19. So I was wondering, how has it affected you personally, and perhaps how has it affected health and safety in Malaysia more generally?
AM: OK, we cannot deny the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the overall development to improve career development for OSH professionals in Asia. And it's not just happening here, it is happening around the world. So it's become a very big challenge – one of the big challenges for OSH professionals around the world. Honestly, this is totally a new experience for all of us.
But what I can say here from the Malaysian perspective, myself and MSOSH we have worked closely with the Malaysian health ministry and we have also had to work closely with other related agencies, and communicate the latest information and related standard operating procedures with respect to COVID-19 to OSH practitioners and also the public in Malaysia, because there are still unnecessary fears towards the COVID-19 pandemic. So that's why we as OSH professionals right now, using our own knowledge and understanding about the biological hazards, demonstrate more regarding environmental health issues.
What we can do, is to really communicate COVID-19 information that we receive from our counterparts or our partners from around the world, and we share these with OSH practitioners and professionals.
At the same time we did some public talk about COVID-19, more related towards the workplace. We shared that through public radio channels. For example, there were a few radios who invited MSOSH to talk about awareness of what COVID-19 is all about at the workplace, and how we can really minimise and also prevent the spread of the COVID-19 at the workplace.
So far, we have had very good response and feedback from the public and members, and hopefully we can still continue to support the other OSH stakeholders, especially the schools. We did give a talk to almost 7000 teachers for free of charge through online, where we explained the best SOP that schools and teachers have to follow, and at the same time, how to manage the mental health issues in the schools among the students, among the teachers, and also among employees in the workplace. Those are some of the things that we did for OSH professionals in Malaysia to overcome the current situation that we face right now.
IOSH magazine: Excellent. Well, COVID-19 notwithstanding, what would you like the OSH profession to look like in Malaysia in five to 10 years’ time?
AM: OK, in five years’ time, this is something that I never think about right now, actually. But if you ask me about the next five years, we are looking at trying to upgrade the specific knowledge and skills among OSH practitioners, and how we can really be more agile, trying to understand companies’ organisational cultures, local cultures, the challenges we face right now around the world, and trying to do a fast-adaptation to our changing surroundings, and hopefully, how fast we can normalise OSH, not just in the workplace, but also as a way of life.
I think this current situation that we have right now, it can really help the OSH practitioner to see that the challenges we face right now is totally different compared to the past five to 10 years. We are dealing with environmental health hazards. We are dealing more on the psychological hazards. And we are doing a lot of more on how we can really support the management and also the OSH stakeholders: if they know the risk, they should know how to manage the risk as low as possible. And I think that in the next five years, I'm sure we can play more practical roles to really share the new trends or the new technologies on how we should manage the new challenges that we face. Especially in relation to things we haven't experienced for the past 100 years – for example, like COVID-19 – and how we can prepare a more advanced or a more practical approach to make sure we minimise the impact of the mental health hazards like COVID-19 that we have right now.
We should be more focused on adaptability of businesses in terms of very specific skills, so that they are ready to face any type of challenges that we can’t foresee in the next five or 10 years from now.
IOSH magazine: Now, could I also ask you one more question? Could we also, I know we've talked about it a lot during the course of our conversation, but I just want to ask you one more about the Master Plan – I suppose a summary of what you expect the OSH Master Plan 2021 to 2025, what do you think it's going to deliver and what improvements are going to come from it?
AM: OK. If you ask me personally, as a safety professional, we expect that the old strategy should be focused more on reducing accidents, I think that was the ultimate goal. And, of course, to reduce the fatality rate and also the accident rate, the authority must come out with very robust programmes and very focused types of programmes to reduce the accident especially on the most contributive industry or activities in the workplace. Based on the data that is shared by the authority, the main contributor to accidents is construction. The fatality rate for last year – actually not last year, 2019 – [shows that] construction has 11.2 fatality rate, [which is very high] compared to other industries. So if you ask me how the OSHMP 2021-2025 can really reduce accidents, the official focus [must be] on the contributing factors of these accidents.
It can be from the government itself, from the leadership of the government – and at the same time trying to promote set regulations in the workplace. Of course, we encourage more on research about certain health [factors]. And at the same time, we look to improve the competency and capability of the OSH competent person and also the OSH practitioner and professional in Malaysia.
Also at the same time, we should focus on small and medium industries. I know that more than 70% of industry in Malaysia is from these small and medium industries. So government should come up with specific programmes suited to them, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, where the ones that are heavily impacted by the COVID-19 are recognised as being among the small and medium industries.
If the OSHMP 2021-2025 can usually fully utilise information technologies, I think that is the best way for us to promote and also to cultivate the safety culture in the fastest manner. I believe that the next generation in Malaysia is those who are teenagers and young people, where IT is part of their life. That's why more than 40% of the population right now in Malaysia is from this young generation. So if the authorities and the OSHMP 2021-2025 can fully utilise information technology, I think we can penetrate half of the population in Malaysia.
IOSH magazine: Excellent, wonderful. Thank you very much. We look forward to seeing how you and Malaysia develop over the next few years.
AM: Thank you very much.
IOSH magazine: Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed the episode. See you next month for another conversation on all things health and safety.