Singapore-based senior health, safety, quality and environment manager, Guru Sangarathas, looks at some of the ways that an active safety culture can be implemented, and how ISG in Singapore has successfully implemented this ethos.
Approaching health and safety from a zero-tolerance perspective is absolutely the correct way to assess occupational risk. Nobody should ever go to work with the prospect that they might not return home safely at the end of the day. Our people are our greatest asset and providing a safe working environment is our commitment to the hundreds of people that deliver the exceptional projects that ISG is world renowned.
In a country where workplace injuries and accidents cost companies millions of dollars every year, and in some cases, the lives of the workers involved, we must look to drive positive change. In Singapore, an average of S$89m has been disbursed each year for permanent incapacity and death compensation based on the Ministry of Manpower reports between 2015 and 2017.
It’s important to stress that this large sum of money is just one element of cost facing businesses in the form of worker compensation, there are also significant costs associated with resourcing staff absences through injury. Medical certification wages documented in the same three-year period amounted to circa S$21m per year.
Within the fit out industry, we can, and have, made a change to the status quo by refusing to accept that we cannot do better and eliminate risk from our operations. To address this key issue we promote a positive workplace safety culture, where safety is recognised as a core priority by every member of our team, from frontline operatives on site right through to senior management.
However, for a robust health and safety culture to flourish in an organisation, it must be based principally on the wellbeing of workers, the desire to drive out risk and to do the right thing for your people, not simply a commercial exercise whose success is measure in cost savings. Employees are far more likely to undertake transformational change in their behaviors if they are part of the cultural DNA of their organisation.
Preventative measures to success
It is imperative that we approach safety proactively. Often, safety measures are only implemented after an accident has taken place. To be a safety leader in the industry, we must identify and prevent accidents before they happen. Therefore, the best solution is to invest in safety. These investments aren’t necessarily about incurring physical costs, but can of course include the supply and use of the very latest safety equipment, but almost certainly are about investing in training and up-skilling your workforce to identify and challenge unsafe behaviors.
ISG remains at the forefront of health and safety standards by constantly evaluating ways that we can work safer as a global business. One highly visible way we have done this is with the evolution of our safety helmets used on site to provide increased protection for employees and trade contractors. This move is on top of the five-point personal protective equipment (PPE) already in place across every site in Singapore and consistent at a global level.
The new helmets from JSP, leading UK manufacturer of above the neck PPE, are fitted with a four-point chinstrap that prevents displacement during an incident, regardless of the height at which operatives work. In addition, the use of step ladders have been phased out, with the introduction of mobile scaffold towers and Pecolifts – with the latter system also generating significant productivity benefits for workers.
Commitment across all levels
Correct use of the very best equipment is one way to demonstrate your safety credentials, but it is not enough on its own. Unless the health and safety culture permeates every part of your business, it will not achieve the success it demands. Making safety a strategic priority at the very highest levels is essential in setting the tone and behavioral response for every employee.
In Singapore, organisations can opt to participate in bizSAFE, a five-step incremental programme that assists companies build up their capabilities in workplace safety and health. To obtain the first level of certification, it is requisite for senior management to attend a half-day workshop to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to health and safety in the workplace. Since August 2017, ISG is accredited with bizSAFE STAR, for fulfilling every requirement of the programme and ultimately delivering excellence in Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Management Systems.
Safety begins with education
Education and behaviors training are essential elements of an encompassing workplace health and safety culture. Learning the best way to undertake procedures that eliminate risk from the process gives our people the confidence to deliver projects quickly and efficiently. Empowering workers to spot and report incidents of poor practice enables everyone to learn and raises standards. In this respect, we have found that removing the ‘blame culture’ and ensuring that lessons are quickly learned and communicated widely – we are constantly improving our safety performance and are never complacent.
Beyond the weekly toolbox talks that occur on site with trade contractors, project team and construction operatives, it is mandatory for every ISG employee to undertake a comprehensive health and safety induction, which has helped drive engagement and encouraged positive conversations around safety practices. If we make health and safety part of our daily conversations – then it is always front of mind in everything that we do.
Every life matters
To develop a strong safety culture, everyone is responsible for their own safety and the people around them. It is an engaging environment where the life of a person is prioritised over hierarchy. Our people are actively encouraged, regardless of role or experience, to speak out about health and safety issues to drive up our standards – this is a key way for businesses to drive transformational change.
All trade contractors working on ISG projects are extended the same safety measures that ISG employees go through. To encourage compliance through positive reinforcement, ISG recognises the effort of all subcontractors and consultants as part of the wider project team – which includes rewarding health and safety excellence with certificates and commendations.
Ultimately, a fundamental shift in thinking and behaviour, along with a company-wide commitment is essential in ensuring the success of promoting a safety culture. While change will not happen overnight, the long-lasting positive impact on the company, its employees and clients, means this is an investment you cannot afford to neglect.