Hazardous petrochemicals, heat stress and falls are some of the risks faced by workers who manually clean oil tanks in refineries.

To keep its workers safe, engineering and maintenance firm CYC International created a snake-like robot that can be remotely controlled to enter and clean the tanks.

Besides eliminating safety and health hazards, the robot has helped increase productivity by over 70 per cent.

Previously, eight workers needed 11 days to clean one tank, which is about 18m tall and 70m wide. With the robot, it takes four workers six days to complete the same task. The other workers are redeployed.

"We've created a lot of policies and procedures just to make sure people go back home safe and sound," said the firm's director, Mr Dan Chua. For its innovative idea, the firm won an award at the annual Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Awards yesterday.

Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said at the ceremony held at Marina Bay Sands: "We certainly need to do more today to improve workplace safety and health."

While the workplace fatality rate has fallen from 4.9 per 100,000 employed people in 2004 to 1.9 last year, "poor safety and health practices are creeping back", he said.

So far this year, 45 workers have lost their lives at work - the latest incident occurred earlier this month - compared to 33 in the same period last year.

Among other efforts, the WSH Council has developed a new programme to train its trainers, he said. Trainers are required to take part in at least 10 hours of training and professional development activities each year, including a course on upholding the right values and ethical conduct.

The council will be hosting more learning platforms where award recipients can share their knowledge and experiences, he added.

At the ceremony, Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, launched a book which chronicles Singapore's push for better workplace safety and health standards in the last 50 years. It features interviews with pioneers and case studies of major industrial accidents.

In all, 164 companies and individuals were recognised for their efforts in improving workplace safety and health.

Among them was petrochemical firm Infineum Singapore, which has won an award every year since the awards were launched in 2006.

The firm gives "safety points" to workers who spot and report safety lapses. At the end of the year, the team of workers with the most points stand to win vouchers.

Said its plant manager Lim Tau Chen: "Anyone who feels (he is in) an unsafe situation has the right to stop work and escalate the issue to the supervisor for a safety review."