AIHce Indianapolis



William P. Yant Award Lecture

Tuesday | 12:30 p.m.–1:30 p.m. |

Lectures and Awards

Management of Workplace Health Hazards — A Multi-Pronged Approach

Presenter: Tan Kia Tang, MS.

Singapore embarked on its industrialization programme in the 1960s and within a span of 40 years, it had transformed from a developing country to an advanced economy nation. Concomitant with its rapid industralisation, concerted efforts were made as early as in 1970s to address the associated workplace safety and health (WSH) hazards through enforcement of the Factories Act and self-regulation e.g. formation of safety committees and introducing safety and health management system. Improvements were seen in terms of the national accident and occupational disease statistics. However, following a cluster of high profile accidents in 2004, Singapore embarked on a major reform of its safety and health framework in 2005. The OSH Division was re-organised; two new units viz the industry-led WSH Council and the WSH Institute were set up to promote WSH best practices and enhance WSH knowledge respectively; an International Advisory Panel was formed; new legislation including the goal-setting WSH Act was introduced to cover all workplaces, and enhance self-regulation with risk assessment as the cornerstone of WSH management; a 10-year WSH blueprint – WSH 2018 was launched to chart our road map; and action plans were drawn up with the aim of achieving WSH excellence by 2018. These have made a significant progress in our WSH performance.

There was no simple solution to the complex and cross-cutting WSH problems; a multi-pronged approach was needed to manage WSH at the national level. In the arena of occupational hygiene which is one of the pillars of WSH, the role of regulatory bodies in workplace health hazards management is to set and enforce occupational health and hygiene standards (e.g. exposure limits for health hazards), and provide infrastructure (e.g. for capability building and information dissemination) to facilitate compliance. While enforcement action is needed to get the job done, promotional activities and industry engagement, incentives and recognition of efforts are effective motivators. In the final analysis, it is within the plant itself that hazards must be controlled or prevented. Specific in-plant occupational hygiene programmes (e.g. chemical management and hearing conservation programmes) and self-regulatory systems can be developed and implemented to manage health hazards. The most effective way to manage health hazards is to design them out at the planning stage; this is followed by engineering controls, administrative measures and personal protection.

This paper covers Singapore’s experience in the area of occupational health hazards management over the years and the impact of various strategies, programmes and initiatives that help to shape the workplace and workforce. It highlights the multi-pronged approach to health hazards management ranging from setting standards, enforcement of law, implementing targeted intervention programmes (e.g. for noise, chemicals, confined spaces, and asbestos), building capability in hazard identification, assessment and control, monitoring and surveillance, to promotional efforts and engagement activities, research and innovations, recognition and incentive schemes. A big challenge is to reach out and engage the small and medium enterprises which constitute the bulk of the industry.