Opening Address by Prof Kenneth Low at the CDA(S) Diving Safety Seminar 2023

26 Sep 2023 Speeches

Opening Address by Prof. Kenneth Low,
Chairman, WSH Council (Marine Industries) Committee at the 
Commercial Diving Association (Singapore) – Diving Safety Seminar 2023 on 18 Aug 2023 at 2.10pm

Chairman, Commercial Diving Association (Singapore)
Management and representatives of the diving industry,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1.   Good afternoon. As the Chairman of the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council (Marine Industries) Committee, I am glad to be able to join you here at the Diving Safety Seminar, organised by the Commercial Diving Association (Singapore). Thank you for taking the time to join us today, as your presence reflects the strong commitment that we need from the various industry stakeholders.

2.   Commercial diving is an important enabling service for our maritime, chemical and construction industries. At the same time, it presents risks that need to be managed, so it is important that we ensure that WSH standards are kept high within the commercial diving sector. 

Exit of Heightened Safety Period and Introduction of Safety Accountability, Focus and Empowerment (SAFE) Measures 

3.   The past year has been a challenging one for workplace safety, but I am relieved to note that out of the 46 fatalities recorded across all industries, none were from the commercial diving sector. It is encouraging that after eight fatal commercial diving cases in 2008 to 2018, there has not been any death since then. However, we must not rest on our laurels - commercial diving is a high-risk activity with environmental, operational and physiological hazards present.

4.   Even as the Heightened Safety Period ended in May this year, the sector must continue the good work that you have done, taking strong ownership and responsibility towards your workers’ safety and health. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has found that around 50% of diving companies inspected had serious contraventions, such as diver or diving supervisor lacking the necessary training and using recreational SCUBA instead of commercial SCUBA, which is not suitable for the task. This number has remained the stagnant since 2018, so we can do better.
5.   I am sure that all of us here agree that one fatality or major injury is one too many. Therefore, I am glad that the Multi-Agency Workplace Safety Taskforce (MAST) has introduced a set of Safety Accountability, Focus and Empowerment (SAFE) measures to help us strengthen WSH ownership on a more fundamental and sustainable level. 
Sectoral Level

6.   At the sectoral level, the SAFE measures include introducing more stringent safety requirements for tenders and procurement, as well as imposing duties on stakeholders. The WSH Council has been engaging buyers of commercial diving services, and in March this year, with the support of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), MOM and Singapore Shipping Association (SSA), we engaged the shipping agents and ship managers to address concerns on their responsibilities to engage competent commercial diving contractors. To meet the requirements under the WSH Act, shipping agents should perform these three basic checks:
i. Ensure that the diving contractor has conducted a comprehensive Risk Assessment and prepare a dive plan for the planned commercial diving operation;
ii. Establish that the dive team has at least a five-person composition in accordance with SS511; and
iii. Ensure all personnel involved in the diving operation has the relevant commercial diving and first aid certifications. 

Company Level

7.   At the company level, one such measure calls for Chief Executives or Board Directors of all companies in high-risk sectors, which includes the Marine Industries, to attend a Top Executive WSH Programme by March 2024. As many of us are aware, the company’s culture of safety and health stems from the top. Hence, there is a need for us to focus corporate leaders’ attention towards meeting their WSH duties and responsibilities, and ensure that they take the necessary steps to develop their employees’ WSH capabilities. I urge all top management here today to be proactive, and start attending the programme before it becomes compulsory next year.

Worker Level

8.   Workers in the commercial diving sector are exposed to multiple WSH risks during the course of their work. One such instance is when divers take a boat out to sea and board a vessel before starting work. A serious WSH risk - man overboard can happen during this time, and is a prevailing concern for all of us in the marine industries. We have sadly seen some fatalities of this nature, the most recent being a harbour pilot who fell overboard in the waters off the Southern Islands while he was disembarking from a tugboat and crossing over to a pilot boat. The harbour pilot was a skilled professional who had extensive experience manoeuvring ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbours. He was also wearing a life jacket at the time of the incident. 

9.   This unfortunate case serves as a stark reminder that no matter how experienced we are in our work, we must always be on the alert. When moving between vessels, we should always maintain good situational awareness, exercise extreme caution, and make sure that we are always aware of the risks of the transfer operation. Also, appropriate life jackets should be donned, and three-point contact must be maintained when embarking or disembarking between vessels at sea. As part of ongoing efforts to remind companies and workers themselves on the risk of man overboard, the WSH Council, in consultation with MOM and MPA, had also published an article on the proper selection and use of life jackets earlier this month. 

National WSH Campaign – Reporting Saves Lives

10.   Just as employers are responsible in providing a safe working environment for their employees, workers should likewise grow their WSH ownership and be on the alert for unsafe situations that may threaten their safety and that of their co-workers. Earlier in May this year, the WSH Council kickstarted its annual National WSH Campaign, focused on “Reporting Saves Lives”. It calls on everyone, be it employers, workers, and even members of the public, to keep a look out for unsafe workplace situations and report them immediately. 

11.   Companies are called upon to set up an internal reporting system so that employees can easily report any unsafe act or practices at the workplace. Such systems need not be complex or costly but made simple for workers to feedback about any unsafe situations that they see and for supervisors to be able to react promptly on such feedback. Workers are encouraged to make use of these systems to report any unsafe WSH acts, or feedback to their union or MOM. Members of the public are also urged to report unsafe workplace situations to MOM via the online form, SnapSAFE. 
12.   To conclude, I commend CDAS and all stakeholders of the commercial diving industry for your commitment towards WSH. Let us continue maintaining our WSH vigilance and strive towards higher safety standards. Thank you very much.