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January 4, 2010

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Ireland sees lowest number of work deaths in 20 years

The Irish Health and Safety Authority (HSA) ended its 20th anniversary year on a positive note, with the release of statistics showing the lowest number of work-related deaths since the body was established.

In 2009, there were 43 workplace fatalities in the Republic of Ireland — down from 67 last year, and the lowest on record since the HSA was set up in 1989 to oversee the introduction and implementation of the country’s seminal Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act.

Construction and agriculture — traditionally the two sectors in which most occupational deaths occur — both recorded improvements, with the number of fatalities in the former down to 10 from 18 in 2008, and in the latter from 21 to 10.

The improvements were welcomed by minister for labour affairs, Dara Calleary TD (pictured), who called them “encouraging” and praised the HSA, employers and employee representatives for “continuing to work collaboratively for greater workplace safety”.

However, he acknowledged the role of the economy, pointing out that “decreased activity in the construction sector has undoubtedly played a part in the decrease in fatalities”. Nevertheless, with the “sharp focus” being maintained on the sector by both the Authority and the Construction Safety Partnership, he added, the “safety gains made over the past 10 years or so” will not be lost.

Similarly, the minister welcomed the work of the Farm Safety Partnership and the HSA in the agriculture sector to target farmers with special awareness-raising initiatives.

HSA chief executive Martin O’Halloran said improvements in safety, health and welfare standards in Irish workplaces over the last 20 years have been significant. In that time, he added, “there have been many tragedies, and these must be acknowledged, but I believe that without the introduction of the 1989 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, many more workers would have been seriously injured, or lost their lives at work”.

He elaborated: “Since 1989, employment figures have significantly increased while accident and injury rates have decreased. Then, for example, the fatal accident rate was 5.2 per 100,000 workers, while in 2008, that rate was 2.5 per 100,000.”

Adding that there is much more work to be done, Mr O’Halloran said the Authority will launch its new three-year strategy soon, which will take account of the dramatic changes in the nature of work in the last 20 years.

Minister Calleary concluded: “The priority for the new year will be to ensure that health and safety in the workplace will not be compromised during the economic downturn. The work of the HSA will be focused clearly on this objective — primarily because of the risks in terms of human cost but also having regard to the effect that poor health and safety has on insurance and other costs for employers.”

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