Singapore's OSH challenges echo the world's

Executive director - policy, IOSH

Fresh from landing in the UK after our family summer holiday, I was off again on my first visit to Singapore to attend the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Conference 2016 and meet members of our branch there. 

A lot was packed into the two-day conference. The minister for manpower, Lim Swee Say, introduced Singapore’s national WSH 2018 Plus plan, which has three priorities: improving WSH performance, strengthening WSH competency and building collective WSH ownership.

This shows that the country’s priorities are similar to those across the world. In view of the focus on competency it was great timing to introduce IOSH Blueprint to the delegates and we look forward to supporting those members who accessed it for the first time.

The cost of Singaporean work injuries and ill health in 2011 was equal to 3.2% of GDP

Singapore has made steady progress in workplace safety and health performance over the past ten years. But performance has plateaued over the past three years with a slight upturn in fatalities in 2015. The WSH Institute estimated 1,388 cases of fatal work-related diseases in the country in 2011 (62% occupational cancers) and that the cost of work injuries and ill health in that year was S$10.45bn – equalling 3.2% of GDP.

Ministry of Manpower (MOM) commissioner Er Ho explained Singapore’s challenges: an ageing workforce, migrant workers, moves towards self-regulation and the need to empower industry to raise WSH competence.

The MOM has sought the advice of an international advisory panel (IAP) to help it determine the action needed to advance WSH standards and practices in Singapore. The IAP comprises experts from countries including Germany, the UK, Finland and Australia and offered a nine-point action plan for the island state to achieve its goals. These include raising the competency of frontline supervisors, recognising the learning opportunities and importance of minor injuries and near misses, strengthening the injury prevention and return-to-work focus in work injury compensation arrangements, and encouraging more industry-led initiatives to promote industry ownership of WSH.

These priorities seek to address Singapore’s challenges. One of these is the slow growth in the workforce, which is estimated at 0.7% from 2010 to 2020 and nil in the decade after. The need to support the workforce with a positive WSH programme is important to prevent the negative outcome of such statistics. The WSH Council’s Total workplace safety and health initiative aims to do this, alongside MOM and others.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) used the event to launch Global Action for Prevention on Occupational Safety and Health (GAP). GAP aims to improve safety and health in SMEs by fostering a global culture of prevention. We met ILO branch chief Nancy Leppink and agreed how we will work together to help ILO deliver it.

The Singapore branch members were excellent hosts to IOSH staff during our visit. Its members have a number of initiatives supporting the national OSH programme across the wider region by exchanging knowledge and inviting them to meetings. It was a pleasure to meet members with such diverse experiences yet a shared passion to drive change. These guys know how to have a good time and I look forward to 2017 when we will work together at the 21st World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Singapore.

From next month I’ll be sharing this column with contributors who will offer different perspectives on issues that are strategically important to the profession.


Shelley Frost is executive director - policy at IOSH. She was formerly head of sustainability at Aggregate Industries UK and has held a number of senior positions in the health and safety and sustainability arenas, from regulatory, policy and strategy to operational management.

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  • It's encouraging to see their

    Permalink Submitted by Steve Hewitt on 27 September 2016 - 12:07 pm

    It's encouraging to see their commitment to workplace H&S but during a recent family holiday to Singapore I was left astonished by the lack of concern for public H&S; a complete lack of first aid provision at a major tourist attraction ("you could go to the hospital!"), reporting of defective equipment (non-functioning street lighting immediately above a significant trip hazard) and actual physical injury. The lack of interest initially concerned me but then became angered that such a forward and progressive nation had no knowledge of what the right approach should be.


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