Opening Speech at the Second Reading of the Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment
05 OCT 2020
Opening Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Second Reading of the Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill
1 Mr Speaker, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a second time”.
A Clean, Liveable and Healthy Singapore
Keeping Singapore Clean
2 Singapore’s reputation as a clean city is a source of national pride. High standards of public hygiene have been a cornerstone of our good public health.
3 Over the years, we have introduced policies and programmes to shape social norms and keep Singapore clean and liveable. These include anti-littering campaigns, mobilising the community, and uplifting the environmental services industry.
4 Internationally, Singapore is known as a clean and green city. Nine in 10 Singaporeans expressed satisfaction with the cleanliness of our public spaces and take pride in keeping Singapore clean, according to a survey by the Singapore Management University (SMU). But there is room for improvement.
5 We are overly reliant on efficient cleaning services. Public toilets in coffeeshops and hawker centres are an area of concern and the cleanliness of bin centres and waste disposal areas need to be improved. One in 5 respondents to the SMU survey thought it acceptable to leave rubbish around if there was already litter in the area. One in 3 respondents believed that it is the cleaners’ responsibility to return trays. Clearly, we still have some way to go to inculcate a strong sense of social responsibility in Singaporeans to do their part to keep public spaces clean.
Threat of Future Pandemics
6 At the same time, we remain vulnerable to public health threats. In 2003, SARS came to Singapore and claimed 33 lives. We have also had to tackle local public health incidents such as the gastroenteritis outbreaks that occurred over 2018 and 2019. Linked to contaminated environments, these outbreaks affected more than 1,200 people.
7 There are also waterborne health risks from pathogens that lurk in water, such as the Legionella bacteria, which can be transmitted through the inhalation of contaminated airborne water droplets. Aquatic facilities such as swimming pools, spa pools and water playgrounds, and aerosol-generating systems such as cooling towers, can harbor such bacteria.
8 Between 2000 and 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported around 57 Legionellosis outbreaks associated with aquatic facilities in the US. More than 600 fell ill and six people lost their lives. Similar Legionellosis outbreaks have occurred in Australia, France and the United Kingdom. While such outbreaks have not occurred here, we must not be complacent.
9 For the past eight months, we have been battling the COVID-19 pandemic, a public health crisis unprecedented in scale and impact. Among the many lessons learnt, an important one is the need for high standards of sanitation and hygiene. COVID-19 will not be the last global pandemic that we have to face. We must shore up our public health defences and be ready to contain emerging outbreaks, when they come.
Sustaining Good Environmental Health - Lessons from Around the World
10 We can learn from some best practices internationally on managing public health risks more effectively. Take Japan. At the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the Japanese football team and fans earned worldwide praise for practising social responsibility and cleaning up after themselves.
11 Other than public education, we learnt that a pillar of the national habit of cleanliness in Japan was its Building Sanitation Law. Large premises, such as schools and shopping centres, are required to conduct thorough cleaning periodically and undertake checks on pest control, indoor air quality and cooling towers.
12 Japan’s legislation also places the responsibility for a building’s sanitary conditions on its owners, and formalises the role of environmental health personnel to oversee all environmental matters in the premises, including oft-neglected back-of-house areas such as bin centres. This has fostered a strong sense of ownership on cleanliness.
13 South Korea is another example. It transformed its cleaning industry and processes following the deadly outbreak of MERS in 2015. Through courses by the International Sanitary Supply Association, cleaners are better-trained and certified on the correct cleaning procedures and disinfection methods.
14 In New York City, regulations were passed for cooling towers to be registered, tested and regularly maintained after a Legionellosis outbreak in 2015. This has enhanced New York’s capability to manage waterborne public health risks.
15 These are useful lessons as we seek to strengthen our framework to keep Singapore clean.
Keep Singapore Clean- The SG Clean Movement
16 We have adopted a multi-pronged approach to keep Singapore clean under the national SG Clean movement launched earlier this year. The SG Clean movement builds on existing hygiene measures, and goes further to raise our standards in public hygiene and inculcate a culture of cleanliness, so that we can emerge stronger from COVID-19.
17 SG Clean has three key thrusts: (1) Raising cleanliness standards of premises by working with premises owners; (2) Transforming the cleaning industry to meet greater demands; and (3) Inculcating shared responsibility for cleanliness among individuals, as end-users and patrons of premises. Let me elaborate on these thrusts and explain how the initiatives under the proposed Bill fit in.
Raising Cleanliness Standards of Premises by working with Premises Owners
18 First, to raise cleanliness standards of premises, we must “Build Right”, “Clean Right” and “Audit the Results”. To “Build Right”, we have incorporated in the building plan process, requirements on premises owners such as the provision of sensor-operated toilet flushing systems and proper layout of bin centres. Well-designed and well-maintained infrastructure is an enabler of good public health.
19 To support premises owners in rejuvenating infrastructure, the National Environment Agency (NEA) recently announced the Toilet Improvement Programme for hawker centres and coffeeshops, to incentivise premises to renovate ageing toilet infrastructure.
20 “Clean Right” and “Audit the Results” are important steps where premises owners adopt proper cleaning regime as guided by NEA’s advisories on cleaning and disinfection. And NEA’s SG Clean Quality Mark certifies premises that adopt good cleaning practices.
21 A key part of the Bill is to support this thrust under SG Clean, by clarifying lines of accountability for maintaining clean premises, and setting clear standards expected of premises owners. I will speak more on this later.
Transforming the Cleaning Industry to Meet Increased Demand for Cleanliness
22 Second, we will continue to transform the cleaning industry to meet increased and more sophisticated demand for cleaning services. In doing so, we also hope to create more good jobs. The Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map (ESITM) launched in 2017 has laid the foundation for this. For example, by driving technology adoption, upskilling the workforce, and enhancing productivity through job redesign and outcome-based contracting.
23 Our cleaners are the unsung frontline heroes of the COVID-19 outbreak, working tirelessly to keep Singapore clean and safe. We will continue to support cleaners as part of the industry transformation journey. For example, we had introduced the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) and PWM Bonus to raise employment standards, facilitate career progression and promote better wages for skilled cleaners.
24 Since we went into the COVID-19 period, NEA has also collaborated with training institutions to launch new Continuing Education and Training courses on environmental infection control to ensure that cleaners are trained to protect themselves against public health threats at work. Through this structured training framework, cleaners can become multi-skilled and expect to earn higher wages.
Inculcating A Shared Responsbility among Individuals, as End-Users and Patrons
25 Third, we will promote good personal hygiene and social norms among end-users and patrons at premises. We launched a campaign under SG Clean earlier this year to promote positive behaviour in our shared spaces, and stepped up recently with initiatives on returning trays and using public toilets responsibly in hawker centres and coffeeshops. More than 5,000 SG Clean Ambassadors have stepped forward to spread SG Clean messages across the country.
26 All in, we have a sound framework that has enabled us to maintain good public health.
Strengthening Our Public Health Defences
27 Mr Speaker, Sir, it is in this context that I am introducing the Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill. It will introduce three broad shifts in our approach to environmental sanitation and hygiene.
28 First, we will adopt a more proactive approach in guarding against public health threats, and institute baseline environmental sanitation standards for routine and periodic cleaning across high-risk premises. For example, the standards will cover daily cleaning frequencies for high-touch surfaces such as toilets and lift buttons, and often neglected areas such as bin centres; periodic thorough cleaning, say every six months, covering areas that are not easily accessible and not covered by routine cleaning; a pest management plan; and a cleaning and disinfection protocol. The standards will also specify desired outcome-based cleanliness indicators to be achieved, and the tools and training requirements for workers to carry out cleaning effectively.
29 Second, we will work with industry partners to co-develop environmental sanitation standards applicable to their respective sectors and tailored to their needs. We will progressively implement these from mid-2021, starting with higher-risk premises with immuno-vulnerable occupants, high footfall or a history of outbreaks, such as our preschools, schools, youth and eldercare facilities, hawker centres and coffeeshops.
30 Third, we will place greater responsibility on the Managers of high-risk premises to ensure that the environmental sanitation standards are met. With the support of trained environmental control coordinators and environmental control officers – ECCs and ECOs in short – the Managers will be required to implement environmental sanitation programmes developed for the premises by the ECCs and ECOs that meet the environmental sanitation standards.
31 To provide a pipeline of competent ECCs and ECOs, we will introduce a two-tiered competency-based framework. In general, premises such as a preschool or coffeeshop will require an ECC while more complex or multi-tenanted premises will require an ECO, with a higher level of competency to coordinate efforts amongst different tenants within the premises. This will provide a career progression pathway for ECCs to become ECOs, as they gain experience and upgrade their skills to take on more responsibilities. We expect to train 3,800 ECCs from the first quarter of 2021.
32 Similarly, we will proactively regulate higher-risk aquatic facilities and aerosol-generating systems, to manage risks from potential waterborne disease outbreaks.
33 Mr Speaker, Sir, let me now highlight the main elements of the Bill.
Key Features of the Bill
34 The Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill establishes an environmental sanitation regime for specified premises, and regulatory regimes for aquatic facilities and aerosol-generating systems.
Environmental Sanitation Regime
35 I will speak first on the environmental sanitation regime.
Introduction of Environmental Sanitation Standards
36 The new section 62A empowers NEA to designate, with Minister’s approval, specified premises for which an environmental sanitation programme is required. The new section 99A gives powers to the Director-General to issue, approve, amend or revoke codes of practice and standards of performance with respect to the provisions of the EPHA, including programmes and measures relating to environmental sanitation.
Duties of the ECC or ECO and the Manager
37 A key feature of this Bill is to clarify the responsibilities for keeping specified premises clean. The new section 62B prescribes the duties of the ECC or ECO, which include developing an environmental sanitation programme for the specified premises, monitoring its implementation and recommending remedial measures to address any default in implementation.
38 The Manager of the specified premises must endorse and submit to the Director-General the environmental sanitation programme, implement the programme and any remedial measures recommended by the ECC or ECO. In accordance with the lines of accountability, the Manager will be responsible for any failure to implement the programme.
39 To ensure that ECCs and ECOs have the technical competence required to perform their roles, the new section 61A empowers the Director-General to register or refuse to register an individual as an ECC or ECO, and stipulates the circumstances under which the Director-General may suspend or cancel such registration. The new section 61B provides for appeals to the Minister against the Director-General’s decisions made under section 61A.
Power of the General-Director to give Directives
40 Notwithstanding upstream preventive efforts under the environmental sanitation regime, we must be prepared to intervene at the first warning signs of a potential health risk. The new section 62C empowers the Director-General to issue directives to close any premises, clean or disinfect the premises or any public service vehicle, or take other necessary measures in respect of the premises or public service vehicle, to prevent or manage health risks or disease outbreaks.
41 Finally, we must ensure that the environmental sanitation regime is properly implemented and the directives are complied with. The new section 62D empowers the Director-General and authorised officers to conduct compliance checks, and obtain documents and information for the purposes of the new sections 62A, 62B and 62C.
Aquatic Facilities and Aerosol-Generating Systems
42 Mr Speaker, Sir, I will next talk about how the Bill strengthens environmental hygiene in higher-risk aquatic facilities and aerosol-generating systems under the new Parts VII and VIIA in the Bill.
Licensing of Aqautic Facilities and Registering Aerosol-Generating Systems
43 Presently, swimming pools are the only type of aquatic facilities licensable under the EPHA. We will extend our licensing regime to more categories of aquatic facilities, such as multi-use spa pools and water playgrounds, which have become commonplace in Singapore. To effect this, the new section 63 requires the owner or occupier of any premises with a licensable aquatic facility to obtain a licence from the Director-General, prior to its use or operation.
44 While we currently have regulations for aerosol-generating systems such as cooling towers, we do not have a registry of these systems and their locations. To strengthen our ability to respond to potential health risks, such as in the event of an outbreak, the new section 66A requires the owner or occupier of any premises with a registrable aerosol-generating system to register it with the Director-General prior to its use or operation.
*Shut Down of Aquatic Facilities and Aerosol-Generating Systems**
45 To prevent or manage potential health risks or disease outbreaks, the new section 64 empowers the Director-General to require the cessation of the use or operation of any aquatic facility, or class of aquatic facilities. This section also empowers the Director-General to require the cessation of the use or operation of a licensable aquatic facility if there has been a contravention of any applicable requirement. Similar powers are provided under the new section 66B for aerosol-generating systems.
46 We will introduce monitoring powers under the new sections 65 and 66C for the Director-General and authorised officers to conduct compliance checks on any aquatic facility or aerosol-generating system, and to obtain documents and information to administer, enforce or ascertain compliance with the requirements in Parts VII and VIIA.
47 Mr Speaker, Sir, this Bill marks another milestone in our efforts to keep Singapore clean and safe. The state of public cleanliness reflects the character of our citizens. Through collective action and co-ownership, we will forge a cleaner, stronger and kinder Singapore for generations to come.