Experts Discuss Incorporating EHS Ownership, Leadership and Partnership Within an Organization

May 15, 2014
Workplace safety and health experts from around the world discussed the importance of a more integrated and interconnected approach to workplace safety and health at the Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Conference 2014.

The Singapore Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Conference 2014, “Integrating Safety and Health: Towards a Holistic Approach,” focused on key areas such as the need to create a balance between health and safety practices as well as to incorporate workplace safety and health ownership, leadership and partnership capabilities within an organization.

Many speakers emphasized the importance of adopting a holistic approach towards workplace safety, involving workers and managers in a continual improvement process to protect and promote the safety, health and wellbeing of all employees.

With an aging workforce and increasing life expectancies in Singapore – just like here in the United States – health issues such as chronic diseases will become more significant, affecting workers and impacting productivity. Speakers suggested employers adopt holistic intervention programs to ensure the safety, health and sustainability of the workforce.

Lawrence Waterman who heads up health and safety for the London Legacy Development Corp. in the UK, was tasked with EHS of some 70,000 sub-contractors during the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London for the London Olympics.

His plenary session presentation highlighted the importance of having healthy workers. “Well-being is an absolutely fundamental beginning of that conversation with the workforce on what needs to be done in partnership between employer and worker in order to improve health generally, and you will end up with a workforce that is healthy and happy in the workplace and who are much more productive,” he told attendees.

Waterman elaborated on the importance of implementing health alongside safety policies with a quote from the Chief of General Staff Sir Peter Wall, on how he thought that health and safety of the workers became the underpinning that resulted in the London Olympic Games being built on time and within budget.

Risk Management Includes Health

The importance of implementing total workplace safety and health also was highlighted by Prof. Chia Kee Seng, Dean, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, who said, “The risk management system must be not be just about safety risk factors, but management should also look into health factors, and it should promote the promotion of health and well-being for workers.”

Although physical health is important, organizations should not neglect the psychological aspect when talking about health, said Dr. Angelina Chan, a senior consultant psychiatrist with Trauma Recovery & Corporate Solutions at Changi General Hospital in Singapore. She discussed the challenges of psychosocial safety in the workplace, and how it is important for companies to consider the psychological health of their employees.

Importance of Vision Zero

The conference also touched on Vision Zero, a mindset that many attending thought could bring workplace safety and health performance to the next level.

In his closing remarks, Singapore’s Senior Parliamentary of State for Education and Manpower Hawazi Daipi stressed the importance of Vision Zero, which related to “zero harm” in the workplace, not just zero injuries.

“Adopting a Vision Zero mind-set is an important next step in our [workplace safety and health] journey,” said Hawazi. “Vision Zero is not about focusing solely on meeting a numerical target of zero accidents or zero risks at the workplace, but rather, adopting a conscious mind-set that strives for zero harm in the workplace.”

Collaboration and Leadership Are Key

Speakers at the conference emphasized the need for management and employees to work together to ensure that EHS management systems are put into practice in the workplace. There needs to be a continued emphasis on the role of leaders in the workplace safety and health discourse and practice for the long run, said the speakers, and for workers to voice their views on how EHS policies can be improved.

Lucas Ng Hong Kiang, who is the general manager of a facility owned by the Petrochemical Corp. of Singapore, stressed the relevance of a “feedback culture” where workers’ suggestions and comments must be acknowledged, investigated and acted upon by management. Kevin McMahon,  a group vice president with U.S.-based Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., talked about creating a “culture of caring” among employees that motivates them to take care of one another and at the same time empowers them to speak up and contribute on how they can get to the stage of “Beyond Zero”.

Good leadership at all levels is key in achieving health and safety for workers, said Jason Duncan, regional manufacturing manager for ExxonMobil Chemical Asia Pacific. “Leaders shape cultures by first setting expectations, teaching others, steward results and most importantly lead by example,” said Duncan. “For culture to grow and flourish, they must be embedded throughout the workforce. Safety leadership not only comes from managers, but it comes from the entire workforce. We strive to have safety leaders from CEOs all the way down to the workforce.”

Workplace Safety and Health Is a Societal Responsibility

Akbar Kader, managing director, Nan Guan Construction Pte Ltd, said that regulations were not enough to ensure workplace safety and health. He illustrated the importance of everyone – corporate leaders, workers and the public – playing ta part in improving safety and health policies in the workplace.

“It is not just about the legislation, it is about the buy-in from the industry,” said Kader. “If it’s just legislation, it becomes more of an instruction.”

“Every one of us must work together, as we strive towards a better future,” said Hawazi. “Wherever you work and whatever you do at work, I urge you to take steps to embrace Vision Zero and adopt a [a total workplace health and safety] approach today. Your combined and concerted efforts would enable us to change mindsets and improve working conditions.”

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