Ritav has been a relentless champion of employee wellbeing and safety for the four and a half years she has been with the organisation.
Behind the malls of Frasers Property, we have a group of dedicated individuals working tirelessly to bring our shoppers the best experience when they visit our malls. As part of our People Story series, we bring to light some interesting insights and anecdotes from the individuals behind the scenes, speaking to them to find out more about their jobs and interests outside of work.
This month, we spoke to Ritav Koh, Assistant Vice President of Health & Safety at Frasers Property Retail. She shares with us how the health and safety industry has evolved over the years.
What does health and safety in today’s context entail?
When you think about health and safety, infrastructure, machinery and procedure immediately come to mind. At the workplace, this means carrying out proper training and having safety protocols and initiatives in place so that our staff have a safe environment to work in. As an organisation, we are committed to improving workplace safety to create better and safer working environment for our staff. To solidify this commitment, we have attained professional health and workplace certification, internationally with ISO 45001 and locally in bizSAFE.
While these are important aspects of workplace health and safety, the industry has evolved to include other focus areas including the mental and psychological wellness of staff. In recent years, we have seen health and safety expanding beyond the initial focus on operational processes to include staff and stakeholder engagement, and COVID-19 has certainly accelerated this mindset shift.
With working from home being the default, most of us continue to work in isolation and this may have taken a toll on our mental health. We have rolled out various programmes and initiatives prioritising on mental and psychological wellbeing for our staff through wellness talks, employee assistance programmes, and virtual staff engagement programmes.
How has your role changed over the years?
As Assistant Vice President of Workplace Health and Safety, my role largely involves streamlining health and safety processes at the workplace and training our staff to recognise and understand safety and auditing terms used in the workplace so that they can understand the rationale behind such procedures. I also conduct site inspections at our various properties to ensure that workplace safety is upheld.
Ritav (left) going through safety protocols with staff at one of our properties.
In recent years, my role has also expanded to provide advisory and mentorship to keep staff motivated through on-ground and online staff engagement. There are many day-to-day things on the ground that our staff have to attend to. By placing health and safety as one of our core values, we can be assured that our staff place this as a priority and ensuring a safe work environment for all.
This is especially important during the pandemic. The workplace safety rules has expanded to include minimising interactions where possible to reduce the transmission of viruses. At the workplace, we have put in place safe management measures such as safe distancing between workstations, no cross deployment of staff, staggered start times, and having staff work from home amongst other measures.
How do you streamline safety processes across the workplace and malls?
There are many health and safety regulations and practices which I receive through various channels such as industry seminars or circulars. I will then assess and evaluate if these regulations and practices are applicable to our malls by looking at what we already have in place, and whether there is a need to add on or review our current SOPs.
If it has been determined that we are to adopt this new guideline, I will disseminate the information to our colleagues in the centre management office. Programmes and milestone charts will be set up to guide and closely monitor the progress of the implementation. Regular engagement will be done to ensure a smooth adoption of the new process.
What are some workplace health and safety rules we have to abide by?
In general, workplace health and safety rules are in place to protect employees and visitors from work-related injuries and illnesses, while promoting their physical and mental health. Some of these include abiding by rules to reduce injuries, knowing and following emergency procedures, not operating tools and machinery you are not trained for, and dressing appropriately for your job – for instance, donning personal protective equipment if needed.
When in doubt, I want staff to remember the acronym KISS – Keep it Safe and Sound. This is a golden rule that everyone should abide by when it comes to health and safety, and it can be applied to any situation. If you think something is unsafe, stop, assess the situation, and seek help if necessary.
Frasers Property Retail has made DIY COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test (ART) self-test kits readily available for all staff.
During the pandemic, the workplace safety rules has expanded to include minimising interactions where possible to reduce the transmission of viruses. At the workplace, we have put in place safe management measures such as safe distancing between workstations, no cross deployment of staff, staggered starting work times, and having staff work from home amongst other. In addition, DIY COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test (ART) self-test kits are made available to all employees when they need it for work.
What are some challenges you face in your line of work?
Shifting people’s mindset of workplace health and safety is one of the most challenging aspects of my job. People often think that safety practices and initiatives are cumbersome and that the company implements it for audit purpose. However, the truth is, every employee needs to internalise these safety efforts and decipher what these messages means for us as individuals.
Through this, I learnt that open and honest communication during the development phase is key in getting staff to understand the safety protocols that will be implemented. It is important to understand the views from the people on the ground and listen to their concerns and constraints. To achieve that, cultivating trust is a vital building block.
Another challenge I face is needing to constantly adapt to the current environment. Workplace health and safety rules are constantly changing, and this was most evident during the pandemic. During this time, the regulations could change at a moment’s notice, and the team had to quickly adapt and implement the appropriate safe management measures as advised by the government, all while working remotely. I am grateful that the different departments in the organisation came together to set a system in place so that information can be disseminated quickly and clearly to ensure that our staff are able to comply to on-site measures.
This experience has shown me that health and safety should be approached as a partnership, and not strictly a top-down process. I also learnt how to better engage people on the ground and even picked up new online communication tools along the way!
How do you foresee the health and safety industry changing in the future?
As a safety professional, I see the industry shifting its focus to creating positive social value at the workplace, and we are already starting to see this happening now. Health and safety is no longer based on a black and white framework. My job is not only to ensure compliance of safety protocols, but also includes looking out for the safety and wellbeing of staff and taking care of the needs of the community who visit our malls albeit indirectly. It is not so much enforcement of regulations and protocols but rather building a culture of care where we look out for one another’s safety, health and wellbeing.
The leadership at Frasers Property Retail sent ice cream to staff at their homes in September 2021 to lift their spirits during the pandemic.
For this to happen, there needs to be a mindset shift in the industry. We need to learn, unlearn, and relearn what health and safety means for the organisation. We not only need to be adaptive, firm, and agile in decision making, but we also need to be empathetic in our approach. We are in the middle of this change, and I still have to remind myself that health and safety has taken a more holistic role that goes beyond operations.
Can you share an initiative that you are working on currently?
Right now, our team hope to transform the model of how workplace health and safety can be implemented by embarking on a culture of care and safety. In the past, workplace health and safety is usually associated with ISO and audit programmes which focus mainly on protocols and the operational aspects of running a mall.
We hope to move from that traditional mindset and make workplace health and safety more people-driven by inculcating a safety mindset for every individual in the organisation, not just the operations team. This will be done through creating shared platforms and running programmes to promote care and safety as part of our work culture.
How do you ensure you are kept up to date with the industry?
The health and safety industry is ever changing so it is important to keep up to date with the latest happenings and guidelines. To do this, I actively seek out information on a regular basis, be it through readings, industry newsletters or searching on Google Scholar. I also attend conferences and seminars to upskill and learn from others in the industry.
Whenever I come across something that is relevant to retail properties, I will share it with the building managers so that they are kept up to date.
What is one important thing you have learnt in the course of working in the health & safety industry?
That everyone has a desire to stay safe at work. When there are safety lapses at the workplace, it is often easy to blame it on not following safety protocols. However, I believe it is important to dig deeper into the issue and find out why the protocols are not adhered to. We need to communicate and understand the circumstances of the staff on the ground so that we can find potential areas for improvement and build a safer work environment for everyone.
I will always remember this saying, “Take care of your men and your men will take care of you.” When it comes to workplace health and safety, we need to help one another in whatever way we can. Everyone has a part to play in maintaining workplace health and safety, and it is this culture of care for others that we want to cultivate and build in Frasers Property Retail.