Spotlight on Workplace Health and Safety

The latest figures from Ireland’s Health and Safety Authority (HSA) have revealed that 45 people tragically lost their lives in Ireland in 2016 as a result of work-related activities.

This figure is a 20% fall over the fatalities occurring in 2015 but is still unacceptably high, and has led to calls for employers to do more to ensure that the health and safety of their workers is always a top priority.

HSA Statistics

The HSA is responsible for regulating and promoting the safety, health and welfare of people at work. The latest fatality figures were revealed in its 2016 Annual Report, which sets out the major activities of the HSA over the year. These include:

  • 10,477 inspections and investigations undertaken
  • 6,497 inspections carried out in the high-risk farming, construction and fishing sectors
  • Written advice provided in over 4,301 inspections
  • 369 improvement notices and 413 prohibition notices issued
  • 17 prosecutions taken leading to fines of €614,000
  • 779 market surveillance checks of chemical products on the Irish market
  • Implementation of major awareness raising campaigns aimed at general workers, new workers, construction workers and farmers

In addition to the 45 fatalities, there were also 8,381 non-fatal injuries reported to the HSA in 2016, an increase over the 7,775 reported the previous year.

Farming Sector is of Particular Concern

The Chief Executive of the HSA, Martin O’Halloran, has highlighted that health and safety in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector remains a particular area of concern, with 25 workers losing their lives in this sector alone in 2016. Of this total, 20 deaths occurred in Agriculture, one in Forestry and four in Fishing.

This is more than double the number of deaths (nine) that occurred in Construction, which has traditionally been seen as one of the most dangerous sectors to work in.

Considering the high number of fatalities occurring in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector, it is surprising to read that it only accounted for 79, or 0.9% of all non-fatal injuries. This perhaps demonstrates the high risk nature of work in this sector, with accidents having a high likelihood of proving fatal.

Failure to Use Safety Equipment

A recent article in the Independent suggests that one reason for the high fatality rate in farming could be the lack of use of a key piece of safety equipment.

According to the article, the HSA found that power take off guards were not in place in 46% of inspections, which could significantly increase the risk of injury. The Independent reports that 50% of farming fatalities in 2016 involved machinery.

“I welcome the progress made by the Health and Safety Authority in the pursuit of its goal of making workplace safety, health and welfare an integral part of doing business in modern Ireland,” commented Minister for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen TD. “Tragically, 45 people were killed in work related activities in 2016. Although this is a welcome decline of almost 20% on the 2015 figure, there is clearly still much to be done.”

“I urge all employers, large and small, to ensure that the safety and health of their employees, and anyone affected by their work activity, is at the core of their business pursuits,” he added. “Anything less is unacceptable”.

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