Feast of Cleanliness

Muhammad Afiq Bin Sab'adi

Singapore’s reputation as a food haven is testament to the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) efforts in maintaining the cleanliness and hygiene of the nation’s eateries. One NEA officer gives us further insight into the saying, “We are what we eat.”

By Gerald Goh

NEA works closely with the community to safeguard, nurture and cherish the environment, ensuring that all Singaporeans can enjoy a clean and hygienic environment to live, work and play in.

Naturally, this adage also extends to Singapore’s hawker centres, which are a unique aspect of Singaporean culture and bring together the best in local cuisine and atmosphere under enjoyable open-air settings. NEA currently manages 107 markets and hawker centres in Singapore, and it takes care of tenancies, licences and public health aspects of hawker centres.

Environmental Health Officer (Operations) Muhammad Afiq Bin Sab'adi, 26, tells us more about how he helps ensure Singaporeans can enjoy their scrumptious fare in clean, modern settings.

Tell us more about your interest in the environment – what sparked this interest?

Muhammad Afiq Bin Sab'adi: As a child, I was a big fan of TV cartoon series Captain Planet, which teaches children to care for the environment. I was also an avid ‘go-green’ advocate in school and a firm believer of the three ‘R’s’ – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – and I even nagged my schoolmates to adopt environmentally friendly habits! My parents and teachers in school also taught me the importance of caring for the environment and how doing so starts with each and every one of us.

Describe your role as an Environmental Health Officer (Operations). In addition, how has your Diploma in Mechanical Engineering helped you in this role?

Afiq: A typical work day involves inspecting the hawker centres under my charge, so having good working relationships with the hawkers is essential in my area of work. I make it a point to actively engage stall holders to gather their feedback and also remind them of NEA rules and regulations. I also work closely with the Hawkers Associations and Town Councils to come up with various ways to improve these hawker centres.

Thankfully, my Diploma in Mechanical Engineering has provided me with vital knowledge in equipment maintenance, which helps me identify potential problems in the equipment used in hawker centres. This knowledge also allows me to suggest improvements to increase work efficiency and reduce the likelihood of any equipment breakdowns.

Share with us a highlight during your time at NEA.

Afiq: The Tray Return Initiative was launched at one of the hawker centres under my charge in August this year. I had the opportunity to be involved in the preparation for the launch from the beginning and felt a great sense of achievement when the event was executed smoothly. I am really grateful to be part of this important cause as the Initiative will have a significant and positive impact on Singapore’s environment, especially for our future generations.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced during your time in NEA, and how have you been able to overcome these challenges?

Afiq: One key challenge I face at work is in handling public feedback, especially when it is negative. As NEA representatives, we are expected to be tactful and polite even when our customers are unhappy. These skills were not taught in school and cannot be learnt overnight, but I am fortunate to be the beneficiary of the guidance and assistance provided by my colleagues and supervisors at NEA.

What kind of training and learning opportunities has NEA provided you with?

Afiq: Every NEA officer goes through several foundation courses upon joining NEA to gain necessary skills and knowledge that are required to execute our duties. To date, I have attended courses on facilities maintenance, defect-finding and customer relations, and also learnt much about environment law and pollution control. In addition, I also have had the opportunity to learn about the work of other departments in NEA, which provides me with a holistic picture of NEA’s different functions.

My work at the Hawker Centres Division also gives me opportunities to think creatively and critically, as some problems are more complex and an unconventional approach is required. I have also learnt the importance of listening, understanding and incorporating ideas from others in a team. Prior to joining NEA, I found it difficult to communicate with strangers. But since I started work at NEA, my interpersonal skills have grown tremendously, enabling me to communicate effectively with people from all walks of life, from government officials to hawkers and cleaners. This has made me more confident of myself!

What was your impression of NEA prior joining the organisation, and how has it changed since you’ve started working?

Afiq: Before joining NEA, I was under the impression it dealt only with mosquitoes and littering. I’ve come to realise that as the third largest statutory board in Singapore, NEA handles a vast range of issues that are related to almost every aspect of an individual’s life. For example, NEA also conducts inspections to measure the pollution index of various industries, provides weather forecasts, handles burial and cremation matters and so much more.

What advice would you give to diploma graduates considering a career with NEA?

Afiq: If you have a strong desire to make a difference in society and help make Singapore a better place for all of us to live in, then NEA is the right place for you. There will be plenty of challenges and a career with NEA is certainly no walk in the park. But at the end of the day, realising that you have done your part to help make the country a better place to live in, such as when I assist both hawker centre stallholders and their patrons in overcoming their respective problems, will give you a feeling of unmatched achievement and fulfillment!

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