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Workplace Health And Safety Professionals - The Underdog Heroes We Can No Longer Ignore

You may know your Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Officers as the one who spot checks company premises and maintains safety “law-and-order”. But did you know these officers also save lives by preventing dangerous situations which may put your life at risk?

Yet despite the strict workplace safety rules these WSH officers help to enforce, workplace accidents continue to be a worrying issue.

From Jan to June 2016, there was an average of 34 injuries, fatal and otherwise, per day, and an average of 6 workplace deaths a month, all of which were preventable.

WSH officers at work sites with high risk ratios enforce correspondingly strict safety regulations, so why exactly are these deaths still happening?

Optimism Bias Makes Us Careless

In an interview with President of the Singapore Institution of Safety Officers (SISO) Bernard Soh, he noted that a reason behind these persisting accidents is the troublesome mind-set of optimism bias.

This refers to an unrealistic sense of optimism that one is somehow more immune to bad luck than others. And while it is not wrong to be optimistic, it also lures one into an unfortunate false sense of security.

Pair that with a workplace of high-risk ratio and it becomes a recipe for disaster.

Companies can enforce strict regulations, but we cannot deny that there are definitely moments when protocols falter. As noted by President Soh, “there is no silver bullet when it comes to addressing workplace health and safety concerns. Instead, constant vigilance is absolutely vital.

How Can WSH Officers Get Better Support?

2015 NTUC National Delegates’ Conference on workplace health and safety / Image Credit: fivestarsandamoon

To equip WSH officers with better skills and give them career progression opportunities, SISO joined forces with Singapore’s National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) as NTUC’s 12th U Associate (UA) Partner.

In November 2016, SISO was the first UA partner to introduce the WSH Professional Standard, aimed at up-skilling professionals and upholding the high standards of the industry, as well as connecting them to the “right-sized” organisations. This will streamline the hiring process for many WSH professionals who do not know where to start.

In addition, it also marks out a clear and defined five-tiered Career Progression Pathway (CPP) for WSH practitioners who intend to advance into higher level managerial positions.

Graphic Credit: An extract of the Career Progression Pathway (SISO Professional Standards for WSH Professionals Book)

The WSH Professional Standard details the specific skills sets, knowledge and job scopes of WSH practitioners at various particular levels.

SISO has also tapped onto the Labour Movement’s network of union leaders to help advocate and push for the implementation of the Professional Standard across the various industries to create a better, and safer, workplace for working people.

Grooming The Next Generation Of WSH Leaders

SISO Graduands from the pilot leadership programme / Image Credit: NTUC

In collaboration with NTUC, SISO developed the inaugural year-long Workplace Safety and Health Professionals Leadership Programme (WSHLP).

This programme empowers WSH Professionals in middle management positions with soft skills such as presentation and negotiation skills, all of which are vital for them to advance towards senior management roles.

By equipping WSH Professionals with enhanced technical expertise, management and leadership skills, they would be more capable of advancing up the career ladder.

50 Professionals in middle management positions have already graduated since this programme’s inauguration in February 2016.

NTUC Secretary-General Chan Chun Sings places the final puzzle piece to launch the WSH Professional Standard. / Image Credit: NTUC

How Lucrative Are WSH Careers?

During the interview with President Soh, a second concern I had was about the possibility of people shunning WSH Professionals as they do security forces.

However, President Soh expressed confidence that as Singapore currently stands at the global forefront of workplace health and safety, he does not it regard it as a cause for concern.

By empowering WSH Professionals with the skills and networks to do their job better, it improves their career prospects not just locally, but globally as well.

As a final note, he added that SISO is also looking to offer more courses which would facilitate industry switches for WSH Professionals, thus giving them more horizontal job flexibility.

Is WSH A Growth Industry?

Image Credit: Changi Airport

Workplace safety and health will always be a prominent aspect in every industry. Despite what you might think, these WSH Professionals are not restricted to high-risk ratio sectors like construction.

According to President Soh, the hospitality sector is a very active hirer of WSH Professionals. Here, job opportunities arise even in prominent locations such as Marina Bay Sands.

Is this news to you? It certainly was for me!

In other fields such as education, WSH Professionals are also very much in demand. Professionals here collaborate with schools to ensure that campuses, as well as outdoor activities, are all designed with safety in mind.

So the next time someone tells you a career as a WSH Professional would see you limited to construction sites, you can rest assured that that is totally not true.

The Labour Movement wants to professionalise the Workplace Health & Safety sector even more to keep our working people safe. Even one accident is one too many.

Featured Image Credit: NTUC This Week

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