Thursday 19th April 2018 at 9.30am
Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen T.D.
I am pleased to be here this morning to launch five research reports into work related injury and illness. The reports are as a result of a collaborative research programme undertaken by the ESRI and the Health and Safety Authority.
The value of this research is that, using the robust statistical analysis in the Reports, it can help inform Government policy, determine HSA priorities and approaches in targeting the most problematic and highest risk areas for accident and occupational illness as well as assisting businesses in identifying workers and job characteristics in their own business sector that might be vulnerable to injury and illness.
The fact is that the majority of workplace accidents and illnesses can be prevented through assessment and acknowledgement of risks and the putting in place of preventive and risk reducing measures. But this cannot be a one-off action – ongoing work-related behaviour and attitudes on all sides are key to keeping to a workplace safe and accident free.
Fortunately, economic activity in Ireland is increasing across all sectors and employments rates are rising. But an increase in business activity and productivity can also mean the composition, age and experience of the workforce of an individual business is changing and fluctuating more often and this needs to be borne in mind in the context a safe and healthy workplace. We also need to be aware of the changing nature of the “working life” – the traditional nine-to-five desk based job is no longer the norm for everyone. Improved technology can result in a greater accessibility to employees outside of standard working hours and while this can give great flexibility to both employer and employee it can also bring its own stresses and strains and needs to be managed carefully.
All of the five sectors – Construction; Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing; Health Sector; Transport and Storage Sector; and the Industry Sector - selected for this ESRI research are key to the Irish economy.
The construction sector is indeed booming with almost 1000 new workers entering the sector each month. Against the backdrop of both the National Development Plan and the national housing requirement this boom is going to continue for the foreseeable future.
The ESRI research shows a clear link between the economic cycle and activity and associated rates of fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the construction sector. I commend the HSA and their industry partners in the Construction Safety Partnership Advisory Committee for the work that they have done, and continue to do, in a collaborative manner to improve construction related safety. Within the context of the welcome increased activity there must be no compromise on worker health and safety and I know that the HSA and the Advisory Committee will monitor this closely.
The Agriculture sector is also one of the five sectors examined by the ESRI. The farming sector has, of course, particular characteristics and features that are different to other sectors of the economy.
I am very aware of challenges faced by the farming sector and the fallout and impact of farm related accidents and fatalities. The ESRI research shows that the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector has the highest worker fatality rate - which is five to seven times greater than that of all sectors and unlike other high-risk economic sectors the number of fatalities increased in the recent period compared to the boom period.
I have recently convened a Task Force on Farm Safety, made up of representatives from various Government Departments and State Agencies, who could have a role to play in relation to overarching policy changes that might assist the agricultural sector in improving its safety record. Any proposals emerging from the Task Force will be complementary to ongoing work by the Health and Safety Authority and its Farm Safety Advisory Committee.
The ESRI research also has some interesting conclusions in relation to the Health sector which has seen a rising trend of injury and illness since 2010. One of features of the Health sector is of course the prevalence of shift work or night work and the correlation of this type of work to the risk of injury or illness needs to be further examined and addressed by employers in that sector.
Workplace fatalities, injuries and illness are a direct cost borne by individuals, by businesses and, indeed, by the State itself through work absences, reduced or lost productivity and potential legal claims. The Irish business sector has enough external challenges to deal with, not least Brexit and other global trading pressures, so therefore any challenges closer to home which can be anticipated, pre-empted and prevented should be, and can be, tackled by employers and business owners.
I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of NALA – the National Adult Literacy Agency – in preparing “Plain English” summaries of the ESRI Reports. This means that the valuable research will be both accessible and clear to a wider audience.
Before I conclude I would also like to mention that Saturday 28 April is International Workers Memorial Day. This is the day on which we remember all workers who have been injured or killed in work related accidents. In Ireland from 2008 to 2017 there were 501 people killed due to work activity with many thousands more seriously injured. In 2017 there were 46 fatalities and in 2018 to date there has 10 recorded fatalities.
Behind these statistics are real families, friends and work colleagues left behind to deal with the trauma and the loss, and, also, the practical and financial consequences, of what has happened.
I commend the Health and Safety Authority and the ESRI for their ongoing work and their joint commitment to improving safety standards across all sectors of the Irish economy.