PSA spares nothing in ensuring worker safety

For PSA International, workplace safety and health (WSH) is not just a policy in the company, but a foundational piece of its operations. 

“You need to have safe operations in order to be able to assure your partners and your customers that you are delivering good efficient service,” said Philbert Chua, Head of HSSE Southeast Asia, PSA Corporation. Mr Chua is a plenary speaker at the upcoming The Singapore WSH Conference 2020, a virtual conference that takes place on 17-18 November 2020, where he will tell of PSA’s WSH story.

Chua said a very clear direction for WSH is set and communicated at the start of every year. “The policies, direction, key areas that need to be addressed – all are cascaded down at the regional levels and then down in the respective business units. We set KPIs for ourselves,” said Chua. 

Some such KPIs are lost time injury incidents, measurement of lost time injury frequency. Safety is also measured by the number of inspections conducted, the coverage and type of infringements.

“We make sure that every incident that happens is reported because when an incident is reported, it gives us an opportunity to look at it, find the gaps in our processes, and correct it. That makes us better. Many [small] incidents that are not addressed will lead to a serious accident,” he said.

Chua said recognising positive behaviour is also important in creating a safe environment. “We want to encourage as well, so safety is not just about issuing summons and penalising people. When people feel good, they will then adopt a safer way of working,” he added. 

But this robust culture of WSH is not achieved over a short time. Chua admits that when he joined the organisation some 30 years ago, it “wasn’t all safe”. “There were rules, but the compliance level wasn’t high. People did not wear overalls and safety boots and helmets,” he said. 

Chua said it took about 20 years of working together to bring it to where it is now. “It takes quite a bit of effort”.

Chua made it clear that participation from the top leadership was critical. Supervisors and managers must “walk the talk” and lead by example. 

“Safety is a funny thing. It’s about the behaviour of the individual and it bears its own risk, yet it has to be reminded by someone else that it is important to work safely. We have to continue to oversee them as people tend to get complacent. They take things for granted and that’s when we have to always remind them,” said Chua. 

This gold standard of WSH that PSA International has attained put it in good stead when COVID-19 hit. 

“The port, during the circuit breaker, had to continue operations because we needed to keep the goods moving, the supply chains open, not just for Singapore but for the world. So we had to keep our workers safe and we had to institute safe measures – wearing of masks, keeping a safe distance, reorganising ourselves so that we work in bubbles rather than in groups of people mixing around. We had safety ambassadors walking around to guide people on what should or should not be done. 

“We managed it pretty well. We operate two [workers] dormitories with over 3,000 workers but had only two cases,” Chua said. 

Chua insists that constant communication is critical in keeping the WSH culture alive and effective throughout the organisation. 

“One of the challenges in maintaining safety and health in the organisation is keeping a persistent presence and communication with the people. It starts from the top – management’s support on safety is important to have,” said Chua. At PSA, a toolbox briefing is given at the start of each work day. At that briefing, every incident is discussed during the briefings so that “everyone learns that such actions are not advisable and are unsafe and they should therefore take precautions for them”. 

PSA spares nothing in ensuring worker safety by providing dedicated teams of people looking at WSH issues. For every five workers, there is one supervisor who is looking after them. That supervisor, explained Chua, is leading the team not just in the tasks, but in safety as well. 

“We train every officer and supervisor in safety. Safety is not just my division but across every business unit from the head down to the supervisor,” said Chua.

To hear Mr Chua speak at The Singapore WSH Conference 2020, visit the website to review the programme and register.