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Crowe highlights sharp increase in workplace deaths

21 February, 2006


Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has highlighted the sharp increase in the number of work deaths in 2005. Speaking in the Dáil this evening, on a Sinn Féin Private Members Motion calling for the establishment of a stand-alone Department of Labour Affairs, Deputy Crowe said, “Workplace safety is a basic entitlement and should not be sacrificed by greedy employers who cut corners at the expense of safety.”

He said, “In 2005 71 employees tragically lost their lives. This is an increase of 21 from the previous year. The fact that any worker could lose their life by just simply turning up and carrying out their days work is a scandal. We believe that a greater focus and priority would be given to health and safety under a stand-alone department of labour affairs.

“The majority of work-related deaths occur in the construction industry. Indeed this industry, the most dangerous one to be employed in, has witnessed a disturbing near 50 percent increase in fatalities in just one year. There were 16 construction deaths in 2004, and 23 last year. Workplace safety is a basic entitlement and should not be sacrificed by greedy employers who cut corners at the expense of safety. Farmers are next prone to fatal accidents with 17 deaths in the agricultural sector last year, including two child fatalities.

“In conclusion, we must all remember that most accidents are preventable. By working to secure all workers’ health and safety rights, by increasing the number of labour inspectors and by establishing corporate killing as a crime, I believe the majority of such accidents can be stopped. Worker safety should take precedence over capitalist greed, people should come before profit and workers should never have to pay with their blood or lives for their employers’ neglect.” ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

Sinn Fein Private Members Business 21st/22nd Feb 2006 Seán Crowe TD

Health & Safety at work – sharp increase in deaths in 2005

In 2005 71 employees tragically lost their lives. This is an increase of 21 from the previous year. The fact that any worker could lose their life by just simply turning up and carrying out their days work is a scandal. We believe that a greater focus and priority would be given to health and safety under a stand-alone department of labour affairs.

The majority of work-related deaths occur in the construction industry. Indeed this industry, the most dangerous one to be employed in, has witnessed a disturbing near 50 percent increase in fatalities in just one year. There were 16 construction deaths in 2004, and 23 last year. Workplace safety is a basic entitlement and should not be sacrificed by greedy employers who cut corners at the expense of safety. Farmers are next prone to fatal accidents with 17 deaths in the agricultural sector last year, including two child fatalities.

In September 2005 SIPTU warned that work-related fatalities could be up to 10 times higher than reported. For example, those killed in road traffic accidents, who are driving as part of their normal work, are not included in occupational fatality statistics. SIPTU estimates that up to one-third of all road accidents are work-related. To get really accurate figures there needs to be an investigation into the number of respiratory illness for example, contacted at work, which have led to fatalities outside the workplace.

SIPTU represents 15,000 migrant workers and has 2 full-time staff to cater for the most vulnerable workers in our society. There has been a great concern regarding the number of work-related deaths among non-nationals. In 2005 they accounted for roughly one-eight of total deaths. Employers should be forced into protecting all workers and are indeed obliged to provide non-nationals with safety information and training in their own language if they do not speak English.                  

Up to 70 Health & Safety labour inspectors are needed, however we have less than half this number, which is an indictment on this government. The Health and Safety Authority is under resourced. Although Sinn Fein welcomed the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act of 2005, we had, and still have reservations. While the significant increase in fines and penalties to deter noncompliant employers is progressive, it’s not enough. Can a fine realy be justified as suitable punishment for negligence which leads to a worker’s death? As Deputy Morgan has stated, some corporations make the calculation that the savings to be gained by risking the health and safety of their workers outweighs the penalties for non-compliance if caught. Sinn Fein support the Law Reform Commission’s recommendation put forward in 2003, that corporations should be subject to criminal liability for corporate killing. Fines are obviously not enough of a deterrent and I reiterate Sinn Fein policy and demand the government to establish a crime of corporate killing in law and thereby ensure that company directors will adhere to health and safety regulations. We need severe penalties that constitute proper deterrents.

BATU, the Building and Allied Trade’s Union, among others, have slated the Revenue Commissioners for facilitating the so-called ‘bogus self-employment’. This matter directly affects the health and safety of these workers because, when injured in the workplace, they have no entitlements or protections, which is scandalous. I would like to welcome the government’s announcement that they are finally going to implement the Construction Regulations, which were drawn up by the Health and Safety Authority over two years. However, the government’s procrastination in failing to implement this legislation earlier has resulted in tragedy.

In conclusion, we must all remember that most accidents are preventable. By working to secure all workers’ health and safety rights, by increasing the number of labour inspectors and by establishing corporate killing as a crime, I believe the majority of such accidents can be stopped. Worker safety should take precedence over capitalist greed, people should come before profit and workers should never have to pay with their blood or lives for their employers’ neglect.

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