Workplace safety code: The new code of practice for Executives in Singapore

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The objective of the national strategy for workplace safety and health in Singapore  (WSH2018) is to have one of the best safety records in the world. An ambitious goal that requires the right mindset and attitude at all levels of the workplace. Sadly, the 2022 work death records appear to be jeopardizing the country's progress.


After an alarming spate of fatalities this year (37 deaths to date), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has launched the Approved Code of Practice on Chief Executives' and Board of Directors' Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) duties.  Companies are now compelled to regularly put workplace safety on the agenda of board meetings and to demand effective safety standards from suppliers, as part of a code of practice.


What does this new code of practice for CEOs and directors imply? 


According to the WSH Council, “in the first half of 2022 (1H 2022), there were 28 workplace fatalities, bringing the 6-month fatality rate per 100,000 workers to 0.8. This was higher than in 2H 2021 (0.4) and 1H 2021 (0.7)”. By September 2022, there have been 37 workplace fatalities since the start of 2022, the same figure for the whole of 2021.


This considerable setback prompted the Ministry of Manpower to launch the code of practice, which specifies the duties of business leaders in terms of safety and health at work, as well as reinforces their accountability in the event of an accident at work.


This new code of practice was published in October 2022 and will apply to businesses in all sectors, even those with no manual labour and little risk of physical injury.


Workplace Safety and Health Act


The Workplace Safety and Health Act (WSH Act) is a legislation relating to the safety, health and welfare of persons at work in a workplace. It requires stakeholders to take reasonably practicable steps for the safety and health of workers and others affected by work. This act has three guiding principles:


  • Reduce risk at the source by requiring all stakeholders to remove or minimise the risk they create.
  • Encourage industries to adopt greater ownership of safety and health outcomes.
  • Impose higher penalties for poor safety management and outcomes.


The WSH Act outlines the responsibilities of stakeholders, including employers, principals, occupiers, manufacturers or suppliers, installers or erectors, employees and the self-employed.


The workplace safety code of practice for the company’s Management Board


On September 19th, 2022, Tan See Leng, the Minister of Manpower launched a code of practice that spells out the duties of company CEOs and directors on workplace safety and health, as well as reinforces their accountability for accidents at work.


While the WSH Act already holds company directors liable for ensuring workers’ safety and health, the code outlines the "desired outcomes" in organisational systems and culture that they should seek to achieve, and lists examples of steps they can take.


"For a strong WSH culture to germinate, to grow and flourish, 

it must start from the top – with the chief executive and company directors," 


Tan See Leng, the Minister of Manpower


This accountability of leaders stems from their positions and their influence and control over budgets, priorities and training. WSH considerations should be anchored as the most important, non-negotiable decisions in an organisation.


Small and medium-sized enterprises engaging in the WSH approach can apply to the Ministry of Manpower's StartSAFE programme. The ministry will bear the full cost of WSH consultancy visits to identify risks and advise on safety measures.


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The principles of the new code of practice


There are 4 main principles in the code of practice on chief executives and board of directors' WSH Duties. They describe how the Company Directors can demonstrate leadership in improving WSH performance and management.


Principle 1: Prioritisation of WSH and clarification of roles and responsibilities of Chief Executive and individual Board of Directors in leading WSH  


In addition to setting WSH standards for the organisation, company directors should identify the individual company director(s) who will be responsible for the relevant measures of the code of practice.


Measures related to the principle:

  • Assign and document WSH roles and responsibilities of individual Company Director(s).
  • Establish the WSH standards and strategies for the organisation.


Principle 2: Walk the talk in embodying and communicating good WSH standards.


Business managers need to communicate and demonstrate that WSH is a priority in their workplace. This includes publishing the organisation's commitment to WSH and performance, allocating sufficient resources for WSH, proactively promoting WSH, and developing the necessary knowledge on WHS.


Measures related to the principle:

  • Publish the organisation’s WSH commitment, performance and targets annually.
  • Set WSH as a regular agenda item in management/board meetings.
  • Ensure sufficient resource allocation to WSH.
  • Facilitate direct reporting of WSH issues to the Company Director(s).
  • Acquire WSH knowledge.
  • Conduct ground engagements to understand processes, workers’ concerns and communicate the need to prioritize WSH.
  • Set and demand high WSH standards and performance from vendors/partners.


Principle 3: Ensure WSH management systems are effective and reviewed regularly 


Company Directors should ensure that WSH management systems and processes are

effective and reviewed regularly. Systems and processes should ensure that risks are regularly monitored, reported, and reviewed.


Measures related to the principle:

  • Ensure the effectiveness of WSH management systems and maintain oversight of compliance with SOP. 
  • Ensure adequate and timely risk assessment. 
  • Recognise and reward workers’ efforts toward achieving good WSH performance. 
  • Endorse immediate remedial/disciplinary actions to address workers’ non-compliance with safe work procedures.  


Principle 4: Empower workers to prioritise WSH


Company directors need to ensure that their employees have the voice and the platforms to raise any WSH concerns. Also, they should ensure that workers must be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to maintain and improve WSH.

Union leaders can also play an important role in encouraging workers to speak up or be the bridge between workers and their management to strengthen workplace safety practices.


Related measures:

  • Ensure processes are in place for workers to receive information on WSH risks and SOPs in a timely manner.
  • Set up reporting systems, provide assurance to encourage proactive reporting and ensure proper follow-up to address WSH issues.
  • Commit resources and protected time for workers to undergo WSH training and refresher courses.
  • Involve workers in the joint development of strategies/programmes to improve WSH.


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Using digital tools to improve workers' health and safety


According to reports, most of the fatal accidents recorded in 2022 were due to preventable safety failures, such as inadequate control measures or failure to follow safe work procedures. This is why the Ministry of Manpower has been proactive in implementing a series of “unprecedented” measures. Indeed, when a fatal work accident occurs, the company will have to continue the activity understaffed for an indefinite period. In small companies, these incidents can have a greater impact as other employees will be forced to compensate for this work, increasing the risk of accidents and burnout.


Fortunately, there are now new technologies dedicated to work in hazardous areas that can help companies control these risks. There are professional software that have features designed for the management of workplace health and safety. Accessible in the form of intuitive and personalised digital platforms, they are practical tools for summarising data. They are used for statistical analysis, to generate dashboards and create graphs that facilitate the understanding of information to help directors and managers in decision-making.


Digitised applications are the concrete technological derivatives of this type of software. A tool that many organisations use for the management of their WSH process, for risk analysis streamlining  and have critical visibility on operations at all times. Their accessibility on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) makes them indispensable for field work thanks to certain functions such as electronic signature, voice recordings and photo taking. It is a particularly useful instrument for operations involving approval processes such as the Electronic Permit to Work (E-PTW).


It is essential for WHS to have leaders who are morally responsible for the welfare of their employees. While this new code of practice provides the regulatory framework that holds directors accountable for worker safety, it is important to clarify that safety is everyone's business. Every worker is a source of WSH information and a resource for improving WSH. Business leaders should solicit feedback from all levels of their organisation and create an open reporting culture as part of a collaborative approach to improving  WSH. Workers should feel safe to report  WSH issues without fear of retaliation or job loss, even when they point out shortcomings of their supervisors  or senior managers.


More informations:

> Discover the application about Electronic Permit to Work (e-PTW)

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