Workplace safety standards warnings

Thursday 30th May 2013

Health and Safety Authority (HSA) chairman Michael Horgan has warned that the continuing loss of staff at the Authority will lead to a reduction in standards and an increase in workplace injuries and costs. He was commenting as the HSA’s annual report was launched. Statistics for the year 2011 to 2012 reveal that:

  • The worker fatality rate was 2.3 per 100,000 workers.
  • There were 6,619 non-fatal injuries reported in 2012, representing a 5% decrease in the numbers reported, for the second year running.
  • The Human Health and Social Work sector recorded the highest number of non-fatal injuries reported (20%). The Manufacturing sector was the next highest with 17% of reports.
  • As in previous years, manual handling injuries were the most common non-fatal injury account for approximately one third of all injuries.

Mr Horgan warned that the continuing loss of key staff will lead to further reductions in the HSA’s ability to support key economic sectors, in particular the chemicals sector with the Authority withdrawing from input in to EU chemicals use policy and the development of nanomaterials which is of strategic important to the Irish economy.

Mr Horgan’s warning echoes the comments of HSA inspection officer Amanda Richards, who told delegates at a recent IMPACT conference that the current high level of support given by the HSA to the Irish pharmaceutical, high tech and medical devices sectors, cannot be maintained at current staffing levels.

Amanda, a member of IMPACT’s HSA branch, told delegates at the union’s Services & Enterprises biennial conference in Portlaoise, that there is an increased risk that production could be moved to other countries as a direct result. And that these industries, between them, account for more than €50bn in exports. She also told delegates that the inspection regime, which has helped to improve workplace safety in Ireland, is now under threat. This is due to what she described as a ‘crude numbers exercise’ which has reduced the number of inspection staff.

The HSA reduced staff numbers by seven in 2012 to 170, and is required to reduce the number by a further 20 to 150 by the end of the 2013. The Authority’s budget grant fell from €19,968,000 to €19,146,000.

Ms Richards told delegates that 54 workplace fatalities were reported to the Health & Safety Authority in 2011, “It was the second year in a row that there was an increase after the lowest recorded figure of 43 fatalities in 2009. Workplace fatalities are thankfully rare, and with proper oversight and a good inspection regime, they can be minimised. That’s what our work is all about.

“Last year the number of people killed at work was 47. It’s a welcome reduction on the previous year’s figure – but still too high, and in spite of a reduction in the number of people at work. On top of this, there is a cumulative cost of €3.5 billion as a result of occupational injuries.”

The HSA carried out 13,835 inspections in 2012, 2,505 fewer inspections than in the previous year. Over half the inspections were carried out in two sectors: construction (3,932) and agriculture (3,136). Twenty prosecutions were completed in the courts, 356 prohibition notices and 508 improvement notices were issued. Seventy-one percent of workplaces had safety statements prepared, in 87% senior management were aware of their duties and 92% had consultation systems. 

Also highlighted in the 2012 Annual Report:

  • There were 48 work-related deaths reported to the Authority in 2012, an 11% decrease from the 54 reported in 2011. Of these fatalities, 42 involved workers. 22 of the fatalities in 2012 involved self-employed persons (similar to    2011), including 17 farmers.
  • 13,835 workplace inspections and investigations were carried out in 2012 (5% higher than originally targeted). 6% of inspections resulted in formal enforcement action taken.
  • The Construction and Agriculture sectors had the highest number of inspections, with 3,932 & 3,136 respectively. This was in line with the Authority’s risk based approach to resource allocation.
  • There were 20 prosecutions concluded with sentence and fines totaling €425,000 and an 18-month suspended sentence imposed.
  • There were over 11,000 businesses using the free safety management tool ‘BeSMART’ by December 2012.The ‘Taking Care of Business’ initiative for small and medium enterprises continued to provide information and advice to the sector.
  • As part of the Authority’s chemicals regulation programme, a joint initiative with the National Poison Centre helped initiate an industry led ‘voluntary product stewardship programme’ regarding detergent liquitabs and incidents with children. This involves commitments to change the packaging to reduce the visibility of the capsules and restrict access to the capsules by small children.

A copy of the full report can be downloaded HERE.