INTERVENTION BY DR AMY KHOR, SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE, MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES & MINISTRY OF HEALTH, AT THE MINISTERIAL PANEL FOR PANEL SESSION II, MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE ON DIABETES, 26 NOVEMBER 2018

Your Excellencies

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

A very good afternoon to one and all.

1. First of all, I wish to thank the three panel speakers for their insightful and thought-provoking presentations.

2. Your Excellencies, when we speak about tackling diabetes through facilitating supportive environments, there are various touchpoints, such as the workplace, our schools and the community, where we can deliver healthcare services, and promote healthy lifestyles to our people. A multi-pronged approach needs to be adopted and delivered through different settings, in order to reach out to more people. Today, I wish to share more about the importance of workplaces in effectively reaching out to individuals.

Singapore’s War on Diabetes

3. Healthy living and prevention is one of the key strategic thrusts of Singapore’s War on Diabetes, which was first declared in 2016, amidst the rising prevalence of diabetes both globally and locally. Our vision is to foster a supportive environment for people in Singapore to lead lives free from diabetes, and for those with diabetes to manage their condition well.

Workplaces as an Important Setting to Deliver Interventions

4. To support our War on Diabetes efforts, we need to reach out to individuals in settings where it is natural and convenient for them. Currently, 70% of Singapore’s resident population are in the workforce, and most of their day is spent at their workplaces. Often times, be it by preference or due to circumstances, employees may compromise on their health, by consuming fast foods, or sleeping late at night. For those who work in the office, they could remain sedentary for long periods of time.

5. For employers, there is much to be gained from keeping employees healthy, as a healthier workforce is proven to be more economically productive. In fact, studies have shown that the cost of lost productivity due to ill health, is over 10 times more than the cost of its prevention . An increased emphasis on employee health can lead to benefits such as higher staff retention rates and lower absenteeism numbers.

Tripartite Oversight Committee on Workplace Safety and Health

6. Work, safety and health are inter-related issues that need to be addressed holistically. I co-chair a Tripartite Oversight Committee (TOC) on Workplace Safety and Health, with the Minister of State for Manpower, MrZaqyMohamad, where we look to provide oversight and guidance in developing and driving a holistic strategy to promote safety, health and well-being of our workers. The Committee achieves this by developing and promoting holistic health and safety initiatives in high-risk industries, at workplace clusters, and for mature workers in key priority sectors. This contributes to achieving supportive workplaces for health.

7. Through the Committee, the government collaborates with key stakeholders such as unions, associations, developers, building owners and companies, to ensure that workers have access to relevant and impactful safety and health initiatives via a multi-pronged approach. The Committee brings targeted interventions to the doorsteps of workers in pre-identified priority sectors with higher proportion of mature workers, such as the transport and logistics, retail, cleaning and security sectors. Customised interventions take into account age-related needs of workers, as well as the nature of their work and schedules. One such example is the provision of free health screening and customised health coaching to taxi and bus drivers at taxi service centres and bus depots respectively. The Health Promotion Board collaborated with a local taxi operator company to provide health screening for taxi drivers while their taxis are undergoing servicing. We call that ‘Check Car, Check Body’. Health coaches are also stationed at the service centres and depots to provide customized one-to-one coaching on chronic disease management. The Committee also focuses on developing holistic health and safety solutions for high-risk industries such as construction and manufacturing.

8. To create a supportive work environment for healthy living, the Committee also forms key industry partnerships with developers and associations to leverage shared environments in workplace clusters such as business districts and industrial areas. By aggregating demand to create economies of scale, our small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will also have access to health promoting programmes, which they may otherwise not have access to. One example is HPB’s recent collaboration with the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA), to provide retail workers within Singapore’s key shopping district with easy access to healthy living activities. Orchard Road is the first precinct to collaborate with HPB, and has seen about 10,000 workers from shopping malls, eateries, hotels, entertainment outlets and offices participate in workplace health programmes over the first 10 months of the initiative. This strategic collaboration involves regular workshops and exercise programmes for workers during lunch hours and after work, as well as tailored programmes such as bite-sized health coaching sessions to accommodate workers with shift hours. Up to 60% of the 60,000 workers at the Orchard Road belt are from hard to reach sectors such as the retail, hospitality, as well as food services and entertainment, which may involve shift work. Many of these workers also spend long hours standing, hence programmes such as stretching exercises had to be tailored specifically for them. Such collaborations go a long way in ensuring that our workers stay healthy, and free from chronic diseases such as diabetes.

The Way Forward

9. Going forward, there are four key strategies which need to be implemented in order for workplaces to be a successful setting in driving health interventions. First, we must adopt a customised and targeted approach to drive participation and increase awareness. Second, we need to forge partnerships with key stakeholders beyond the healthcare sector, such as employers and unions, to extend outreach and accessibility, and drive impactful results. Third, these partners should be empowered to manage workplace health programmes independently, to ensure the sustainability of health promotion efforts. Last but not least, robust and systematic evaluation should be in place to monitor the effectiveness of such programmes and initiatives.

10. With these strategies in place, we can foster a supportive workplace environment for healthy living.

Closing

11. In closing, we need to constantly encourage companies to invest in workplace policies and programmes that benefit the health of their workers, so as to keep them healthy and yield more productive outcomes. With companies on board and committed, half the battle will be won in creating a supportive, healthy and safe environment for our workers. We need to continue to work to change the mindset of employers, and encourage them to participate in the programmes. With that, I thank you for your attention, and look forward to learning more from the other interventions.

Source: Ministry of Health, Singapore

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