Opening Address by Dr Amy Khor at Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Forum for Waste Management Industry on 17 November 2023
Ladies and gentlemen
1 Good morning. I am pleased to join all of you for the inaugural Workplace Safety and Health Forum for the Waste Management Industry.
2 I am heartened to see familiar faces amidst the good attendance today. It reflects the desire and commitment of industry stakeholders to exchange good pointers, best practices and learn from one another to collectively improve workplace safety and health outcomes.
Singapore’s Waste Management Industry
3 Singapore has ambitious tasks and goals for our waste management industry. Under our Zero Waste Masterplan, we aim to increase our overall recycling rate to 70 per cent and reduce waste-to-landfill per capita per day by 30 per cent by 2030. This is accomplished through a circular economy approach by reducing waste, recovering resources at the end of a product’s life, and channelling it back into production. Our goal is even more ambitious under our Singapore Green Plan 2030, which aims for a 20 per cent reduction in waste-to-landfill per capita per day by 2026.
4 The underlying premise to achieving these goals is a sustainable waste management workforce and safe business practices. As our waste management ecosystem evolves to meet our demanding goals, our waste management workers find themselves utilising technology and automation to reduce physical labour and improve safety. But even so, our waste management workers are still exposed to a wide range of hazards in the course of their work. On top of the physical and mechanical risks that come with operating vehicles and heavy machinery, they are also exposed to biological and harsh components, such as waste containing foul fluids and heavy metals, that can be found in waste collected from post-consumer, commercial and industrial activities.
5 Safety precautions must be taken to ensure that our workers are protected from harmful materials and risks. We should also not forget that there are invisible risks – ergonomics, exposure to harsh weather, stress, and fatigue – that our workers face in the course of carrying out their daily work. Providing intermittent rest throughout the day helps to safeguard our workers’ physical and mental well-being.
6 The evolving waste management landscape requires workers to be given the proper training to not only operate safely, but to also recognise the risks to their health and safety. This is why we place so much importance on Workplace Health and Safety (WSH), and this is precisely why all of us are gathered here today.
WSH Performance of the Waste Management industry
7 Just two months back, a waste disposal facility was given a stop-work order due to multiple safety lapses such as stacking of waste materials against damaged structural columns, poor maintenance of the building’s infrastructure, and lack of traffic management to prevent traffic collisions. If left unchecked, it is highly likely to have led to some unfortunate accidents happening. Such incidents not only compromise the safety of workers, but they could also cause environmental pollution.
8 There is also the risk of fires. Improper disposal of easily combustible materials like gas canisters and lithium batteries to an extremely flammable environment filled with cardboards and paper is akin to striking a spark into a tinderbox. Gas canisters with low flash points and lithium batteries can easily explode and ignite if handled improperly. You may be aware of the fire and explosion at a recycling company back in 2017. Investigations found that the company failed to conduct comprehensive safety checks and risk assessments. The company also ignored the written warnings on the canisters and proceeded to compress them using a baler machine.
9 These past examples and other workplace safety incidents, such as a cleaner trapped by Refuse Handling Equipment in 2021, is a stark reminder to all of us that we should never take safety for granted. To uphold a high standard of workplace safety, we can adopt a similar circular approach as Zero Waste to manage WSH. This means that one must be aware of the current risks and safety lapses to be able to rectify the situation immediately before adjusting work patterns and regulations for the longer run. The heightened safety regulations then go back to inform the mindfulness of workplace safety, perpetuating the loop.
10 We must keep the work environment safe for workers, and this requires companies to conduct regular review of their operations and keep abreast of industry best practices. Risk assessments should be done prior to the start of any work and proper safe work procedures must be established. Employers should then communicate these safe work procedures to workers and ensure that they are provided with adequate WSH training and appropriate personal protective equipment.
11 Upon recognition of WSH risks, employees must be able to act to rectify it immediately. An emphasis on building a culture of safety, such as providing for internal reporting for WSH incidents, can instil a greater sense of safety ownership in employees. Waste management companies should have a proper protocol in place to take fast action to mitigate any exigencies.
12 After the immediate risks have been remedied, work patterns must be adjusted to ensure no relapse of similar incidents. Individual companies must ensure that training and upskilling opportunities are provided for all employees.
13 Specific to fires in waste management facilities, proper fire protection systems will need to be submitted and approved by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). To raise awareness of fire safety within the industry, WMRAS collaborates with the SCDF to organise dialogues and seminars to share about good practices and lessons learnt. There is also a joint circular issued end last year by SCDF and NEA containing a set of best practices covering preventive and mitigation measures to minimise fire risks.
14 On a sectoral level, the Tripartite Cluster for Waste Management had set out training recommendations under the Progressive Wage Model for the Waste Management industry that commenced on 1 July 2023. One of the recommendations was the mandatory requirement for workers across all Waste Management sub-sectors to attain one mandatory module on WSH along with other WSQ modules. This mandatory training is important to keep Waste Management workers aware of their own personal safety and take due care when carrying out work tasks.
Launch of WSH Guidelines for General Waste Management
15 To help general waste collection companies be even safer, I am pleased to share that the Waste Management & Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS) has produced the “Workplace Safety and Health Guidelines for General Waste Management”, which is supported by tripartite partners, associations, and agencies. The Guidelines provides practical WSH guidance for waste collectors and enhances their WSH knowledge to carry out waste collection safely.
16 WMRAS has always been committed to uplifting the WSH standards and spearheading initiatives in the Waste Management industry. With the WSH Guideline launch, there will also be a forum themed “WSH Matters in Waste Management” conducted later. With open discussion and knowledge sharing, we can support waste management workers to have safe working conditions.
17 We must do our utmost to manage workplace risks and protect the safety and lives of everyone involved. Together with WMRAS, we call on industry leaders and partners to review your current safety practices and working environment. Please ensure that employees have a safe space to report safety lapses and are properly trained in workplace safety.
18 These are important issues that the industry must consider, and I am happy that they will be covered by speakers at today’s forum. I hope you will be able to find inspiration and good insights from them to help achieve better WSH performance at your workplaces. I wish you a fruitful forum, and please continue to take care of your safety and health! Thank you.