16 Jan 2023
Opening Address at WSH Symposium on Cranes 2023
SMS Zaqy, Stephen Riady Auditorium, NTUC Centre at One Marina Boulevard
1. Good afternoon, I am glad to join you at the 11th WSH Symposium on Cranes 2023. Today’s Symposium is the signature platform for the crane and lifting community to come together, share experiences, and discuss ideas to raise WSH standards in the industry.
2. The theme this year is “Safe Lifting Operations: Beyond the Machinery”. Ensuring that cranes are safe for use is a fundamental requirement. Beyond the machinery, we must put in place competent lifting crew and a proper lifting plan. We should also leverage technology for safer results.
3. This holistic approach centred on “Man, Method and Technology” is important, especially in the wake of four fatalities last month, two of which involved cranes. I will speak more on these two cases later.
Update on Heightened Safety Period
4. I would like to first set the context of where we stand now. The Ministry of Manpower implemented the 6-month Heightened Safety Period – in short, “HSP” – on 1st September last year to arrest the spate of fatalities in 2022.
5. After four months of intense enforcement and tougher measures, we have seen some encouraging results. For example, the average number of fatalities per month has dropped from 4.5 between January and August 2022, to 2.5 from September to December 2022. The fatality rate for 2022 as a whole is 1.3 per 100,000 workers. It would have been 1.6 if we have followed the trend if HSP was not in place. This tells us that when companies put in effort and commit to strengthening WSH, we can prevent accidents and save lives.
6. Although there were fewer fatalities after we implemented HSP, the 2022 fatality rate of 1.3 is still higher than the 1.1 in 2021. The 4 fatalities in December alone suggest that continued vigilance is needed, and some companies have yet to take WSH seriously. In previous years, business activities and accidents increased after Chinese New Year. I want to emphasise again that employers must place first priority on safety and cannot allow standards to slip when re-starting work or catching up on project timelines. Therefore, MOM is considering whether to extend the HSP further after end February.
On our part, MOM has been taking a stricter and more intense enforcement posture during this heightened period. To send a strong message of deterrence, MOM increased the frequency of enforcement inspections, and the quantum of fines. Since September, we issued over 600 composition fines amounting to over $1.3 million. This is close to a 50% increase in fine quantum compared to the same period in 2021.
7. We have debarred 11 companies from hiring new work pass holders due to fatal and major accidents and serious lapses at the worksites. The companies were required to engage external WSH auditors to conduct a thorough review of their WSH processes. Their CEOs and Directors had to personally account to the Commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health and MOM for the accidents, and are currently being investigated for their respective involvement in the accidents. If found liable, they may face prosecution.
8. Compromising on workplace safety is unacceptable, and over the years, MOM has been increasingly taking a tough stance against errant companies and their senior management representatives. In the last 5 years, 19 Company Directors were convicted. More than half were in 2022 alone. Amongst these 10 convictions last year, 9 were fined and 1 sentenced to imprisonment.
9. Making workplaces safe requires companies and workers to play their part too. Management teams need to put priority on WSH and train their workers on safety procedures. Workers need to adhere to their training and look out for themselves and their colleagues.
10. In the next few days, we will be consulting our International Advisory Panel and the industry on the workplace safety and health situation. We will share their recommendations to improve our WSH standards and safety outcomes.
WSH Performance for Crane
11. Turning to today’s focus on cranes, I am concerned that the number of crane-related Dangerous Occurrences has risen once again, from 4 cases in 2021 to 15 in 2022. These are incidents that may not have any injury but have the potential for multiple casualties. The last time we saw similar numbers was in 2016, when 19 cases were recorded.
12. Of the 46 workplace fatalities that occurred last year, six were crane-related, compared to an average of less than 1 in the last 5 years. Two occurred just last month, during the HSP. The first case saw a worker being struck by a dislodged cut tree trunk, which he was helping to load onto a lorry crane. He was not trained as a rigger, yet he was performing rigging works.
13. The second case saw a worker struck by the crane’s boom, which fell during the unloading of steel bars from a lorry crane. In both cases, the workers involved were not properly trained to perform the tasks, and safety preparations were not made.
14. The crane-related incidents and fatalities are not acceptable. It reinforces my concern earlier that not all companies have heeded the HSP. My urgent message to companies is this: you must ensure that your workers are trained for the tasks they are required to do. This is a basic legal requirement under the WSH Act. If they are not trained, they must not perform these tasks, especially high-risk ones. MOM will take strong enforcement action against employers that deploy workers to do high-risk jobs that they are not properly trained to do.
Ensuring Safe Lifting Operations
15. These two tragic crane-related fatalities are a glaring reminder that some companies are not complying with basic requirements. Training programmes on lifting operations and safe lifting guidelines have been long-established. Companies must implement them, in order to protect their workers’ lives.
16. Let me recap other areas of basic requirements with respect to cranes. Cranes should be regularly checked and maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. They need to have undergone a statutory inspection by an Authorised Examiner. Maintenance works must be carried out by competent persons to keep cranes in good working condition.
17. However, just ensuring that the machinery is safe for use is not enough. Three other considerations, namely “Man, Method and Technology”, must be added to the equation.
Man: Workers’ competency, training and overall health
18. The first point, “Man”, refers to the workers or team performing the work. Under the Workplace Safety and Health (Operation of Cranes) Regulations, all crane operators must pass a crane operator course conducted by an accredited training provider and be registered with MOM. In addition, their competencies need to be regularly assessed for re-training where necessary. Workers should also be provided with suitable personal protective equipment and be trained on their use.
19. The work responsibilities of our crane operators and the lifting teams are physically demanding, and require intense focus and concentration during lifting operations. It is important for companies to look after their workers’ overall health and well-being. For example, crane operators who are above 50 years old, are required to go for health checks and be certified medically fit to operate a crane. Many companies also took it upon themselves to check the blood pressure of their crane operators, requiring them to use wearables to monitor their physical health, or just simply checking in with them during their breaks.
Method: Sound planning and preparations pre- and post-lifting operations
20. Second, “Method” refers to having sound planning and preparations before, during, and after lifting operations. It is compulsory for companies to develop a lifting plan before commencing lifting operations. This must be supported with a site-specific risk assessment, safe lifting procedure, and authorised via a permit-to-work system.
21. During lifting operations, it is also critical to adopt safe rigging and load management methods to prevent loads from tilting or swinging, overloading or being swung over others.
22. Any company or person found to have failed to comply with these regulations may be fined or imprisoned, or both.
23. The last is “Technology”. Technology has consistently proved beneficial in improving WSH outcomes, by reducing likelihood of manual errors and allowing workers to operate machines in a safer manner. Companies should leverage technology and innovations and incorporate them into their work processes.
New grant for Stability Control System for lorry cranes
24. At the Crane Symposium two years ago, I spoke about how new technology, such as the Stability Control System (SCS) for lorry cranes, can prevent overloading and toppling of lorry cranes. To encourage the industry to adopt SCS, I am happy to announce that a new grant of $4 million will be available to co-fund the installation of the SCS on lorry cranes.
25. The grant will fund 70% of qualifying costs, capped at $7,000 per lorry crane, and $20,000 per company. This grant is open to all sectors and businesses from March 2023 up to March 2025.
26. In conclusion, the HSP was introduced last year to galvanise industry’s attention to WSH following the spate of accidents. While we have seen some improvement, we cannot let our guard down. Too many employers are still not putting in place mandated and even basic safety requirements such as ensuring workers performing higher risk activities are properly trained. In this new year, let us resolve to put WSH as our non-negotiable priority, because every worker deserves a safe and healthy working environment. Thank you!