Working on workplace safety

In a business environment dictated by numerous challenges and changes, many organisations continue to deliberate on the changing nature of jobs and the need to continuously raise productivity in the workplace.

The emergence of new disruptive technologies also creates more complex challenges for businesses.

Furthermore, organisations have to pay equal attention to the important aspect of workplace safety and health (WSH).

Many organisations have become more aware of WSH and they are making strides in enhancing and creating healthy and sustainable workplaces.

The five-step bizSAFE programme, conceptualised and implemented by the Workplace Safety and Health Council, can be credited for this progress.

Many private sector organisations, including the General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA), worked with a variety of stakeholders to deliver on these gains in WSH.

A central tenet of workplace safety is that it is everyone’s responsibility and in their interest to make further improvements.

The chief executive is as responsible as a rank-and-file employee in setting and executing the direction on how safe practices should be implemented, practised, documented and improved on a continuing basis.

Going by current evidence, there is still room to do more.

Last year, 66 workers died on the job.

In its periodic updates, the Ministry of Manpower continues to voice its concerns about workplace fatalities.

Singapore managed to lower the fatality rate from 2.8 per 100,000 workers in 2008 to 1.8 in 2014. But it rose to 1.9 in 2015 and stayed the same for last year.

The goal for stakeholders is to lower this rate.

Within this context, it does not help that the current weaker economic environment puts greater pressure on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – compared with larger multinationals and organisations – to raise WSH standards.

When revenues taper off with no corresponding cut in business costs, it seems inevitable that resources on WSH tend to take a back seat.

It is no wonder that the WSH Council introduced a pilot programme in 2015 to help more than 350 SMEs in metalworking and manufacturing to improve workplace safety.


Since the introduction of this programme, many participating SMEs have provided feedback that is now being used to fine tune the outreach approach as well as the WSH course content.

Where does that leave the pursuit of WSH within SMEs?

When revenues taper off with no corresponding cut in business costs, it seems inevitable that resources on WSH tend to take a back seat. [Citation]

As a trade association, the GIA is committed to raising safety standards – and conversely, reducing the number of injuries – in the workplace.

We believe it is imperative that through various engagements, including leading educational workshops, SMEs are kept informed of the indispensable value of WSH insurance.

The Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica) is in place to enable employees to claim for work-related injuries or diseases without having to file a civil suit under common law.

It is a low-cost and quicker alternative to common law in settling compensation claims.

While Wica provides a basic safety net for employees, can SME employers do more?

It is imperative that SMEs understand and view insurance in a manner that helps to protect their businesses as well as address specific risks that they are most likely to be exposed to.

As important as insurance is in protecting the business, it is also important for employers to buy enough coverage to manage their claims exposure.

Hence, we believe there is an opportunity to host multi-stakeholder forums to enable SMEs to better understand and appreciate the value of such insurance to their business.

This way, they would be better informed on how they can take holistic effort in committing the necessary resources to build up their workplace and safety and health capabilities.

There is also room for businesses to re-think how they and the general insurance industry can collaborate to raise WSH standards.

The association has undertaken greater efforts to increase and enhance the knowledge in specific general insurance classes and such initiatives would be a natural extension.

Surely, getting better bizSAFE rankings is one indicator where businesses can work closer to raise WSH standards.

As a way of recognition, companies that make the conscientious effort to invest in this area and raise WSH standards can be “rewarded”.

Raising WSH standards is a matter of collective efforts between all relevant stakeholders.

This requires continuous and progressive efforts in a journey where WSH becomes ingrained into the strategic and operational mindsets of organisations.

The writer is a member of the management committee of the General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA), as well as a convenor of the GIA’s Work Injury Compensation Committee.

This article was published in The Business Times yesterday.

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