Union warns that jobs growth may bring workplace safety risk

IMPACT trade union has warned that improving employment figures could lead to an increase in workplace accidents – and even fatalities – as the capacity of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has been dangerously run-down during the recession. 

In an article in the union’s membership e-bulletin this weekend, IMPACT criticised the continuing fall in the number of HSA health and safety inspections in recent years. The authority’s latest annual report, published at the end of last month, revealed that 12,244 inspections took place last year. This compares to over 13,000 the year before and over 16,000 five years ago

The union says the continuing decline in safety inspections, which is due to falling staff numbers in the agency, could put lives at risk as the number of people at work continues to grow.

IMPACT official Geraldine O’Brien said three more front-line inspectors had been redeployed from the HSA over the last 12 months, which could result in over 900 fewer inspections. “What’s more, a further five front-line inspection posts have been earmarked for future redeployment to meet official staffing reduction targets. Meanwhile, the number of people working in often hazardous workplaces continues to grow,” she said.

In their introduction to the annual report, HSA chair Michael Horgan and chief executive Martin O’Halloran echoed these concerns, saying welcome employment growth “may be accompanied by an unwelcome rise in the rate of people being killed and injured in workplace accidents.”

Some 47 fatal workplace accidents occurred in 2013 – one fewer than in 2012. Almost 6,600 non-fatal injuries were reported, compared to just over 6,800 in 2012. Agriculture, fishing and construction continue to be the most hazardous sectors of the economy.

The HSA’s budget fell by 27% between 2009 and 2014. Last year saw both the president of the National Irish Safety Organisation Pauric Corrigan and HSA chairman Michael Horgan warn that continuing staff losses could lead to a reduction in standards and an increase in workplace injuries and costs.

Mr Horgan told an Oireachtas committee that the agency was struggling to maintain support to high-tech industries that earn more than €50 billion in exports. He said production could be moved to other countries as a direct result.