The construction industry was the sector most affected by the economic down-turn, with significant decreases in activity and numbers employed. Now with an economic recovery underway, there is some concern that increased activity in construction will lead to increased accident rates.
That was one of the themes addressed at a Cross Border Construction Safety seminar which took place in the Hillgrove Hotel, Monaghan Town on Thursday the 16th October. The event was co-hosted by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and the Health and Safety Executive of Northern Ireland (HSENI) and focused on the key risk areas in both jurisdictions.
According to Martin O’Halloran, CEO of the HSA, there is evidence from the Authority’s inspection programmes that previously high safety standards in the industry have slipped during the recession.
“A relentless campaign of information, promotion, partnership with industry and above all inspection, was launched in the construction sector in the early 1990’s. Deaths came down even as employment soared. It is now almost inconceivable to see a construction site without appropriate signage, Safe Pass, mandatory use of Personal Protective Equipment and proper site management. However, some problems that we thought were solved are reappearing along with the welcome increase in construction activity. So we know that increased effort will again be needed.”
In the Republic of Ireland there have been 7 construction related fatal accidents so far this year and 354 serious accidents reported. Accidents involving machinery and work at height are the main causes of death and serious injury. To date, there have been 2 construction fatalities in Northern Ireland and, similarly, work at height is an area of concern.
According to Keith Morrison, CEO of the HSENI, “During a recent site inspection initiative, HSENI Inspectors visited 102 construction sites as part of a nationwide drive aimed at reducing ill-health, death and injury in the industry. We recognise the construction sector’s progress in reducing the number of people killed and injured by its activities, but it’s clear from these visits that there is still a complacent attitude in some areas. Falls from height continues to be the biggest cause of workplace fatalities and major injuries in Northern Ireland and HSENI aims to drive home the message to those working in the industry that poor risk management and a lack of awareness of responsibilities are not only unacceptable, but can cost lives.”
There is a new focus to encourage the construction industry to treat health issues in the same way as safety and HSENI construction inspectors are putting greater emphasis on the control of significant health risk issues such as respiratory risks from dusts containing silica materials and exposure to asbestos fibres, exposure to other hazardous substances such as cement and lead paint, manual handling, noise and vibration. Through campaigns like the recent site initiative we aim to ensure contractors put in place practical measures to keep workers both safe and well.”
Also at the seminar delegates from both sides of the border were provided with essential updates and information to assist construction professionals in both jurisdictions to manage health and safety.
Delegates were given practical examples of best practice with the first part of the seminar focussing on occupational health issues and the second part giving information on new ways to manage health and safety and an update on new regulations and technologies.
The HSA and HSENI are part of the Cross Border Construction Working Group. This working group gives both agencies a platform to share statistics, accident trends and information relevant to construction in both jurisdictions. The seminar has always been well attended and this year the quality of speakers has ensured an attendance of over 100 delegates. The working group has always been aware that contractors work both sides of the border and these seminars will benefit them in carrying out that work safely.
Last year there were 13 people killed in construction accidents on the island of Ireland (11 in Republic of Ireland and 2 in Northern Ireland).