Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Legislation must stamp out workplace deaths

12 December, 2006


Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin MLA has outlined a number of measures that could help to reduce the number of workplace deaths during a debate in the Assembly today on Corporate Manslaughter. He also highlighted the huge under reporting of deaths in the workplace.

Following the debate Mr McLaughlin expressed disappointment that unionist politicians refused to support a Sinn Fein amendment to the motion calling for the removal of Crown immunity from prosecution.

Sinn Féin East Derry MLA Francie Brolly also spoke the death of his father, Joe Brolly, at the age of 57 on a construction site.

Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland also gave his first speech in the Assembly.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"Sinn Féin brought forward this amendment to support and strengthen the debate because Draft Westminster legislation is substandard in important respects and fails to comprehensively address work-related deaths in many circumstances.

"The amendment addresses the anomaly of Crown immunity from prosecution. In the interests of justice and equality before the law this must be abolished. An employee of Government Agencies, or for that matter his or her dependants should be afforded the same duty of care and the same avenues of redress as those employed in other sectors of the economy. We would best serve those we represent by working on our own solutions that would remove the privileges and anomalies in the system and deliver equality of protection to all workers.

"In 2005, 88 people lost their lives in work related accidents in Ireland, 73 in the South and 15 in the North in the twelve-month period to March 2005.

"Another important issue arises from the methods of calculating the statistics of work related fatalities and injuries. SIPTU has warned that work-related fatalities could be up to ten times higher than actually reported. SIPTU cite as an example, those killed in road traffic accidents, who were driving as part of their normal employment, and whose deaths are not included in occupational fatality statistics. Yet up to a third of all road accidents according to SIPTU are work-related.

"Illnesses contracted at work that can lead to fatalities outside the workplace are not included in work-related statistics. For example, workplace-related cancers such as asbestoses and methsolemia are particularly high here in the North. Non-fatal work-related illness and injuries can cause a serious deterioration in the quality of life, including in some cases disrupting the ability to participate in the workforce or reducing life expectancy yet they are not treated with the seriousness they deserve.

"Nearly all work-related illnesses, injuries and deaths are preventable provided proper safety regimes are in place and implemented with due diligence.

"As employers stand to benefit from measures that reduce workplace illnesses, injuries and stress, it is hard to understand why employers‚ organisations continue to resist measures that would improve health and safety - including improved productivity due to lower rates of sickness, absenteeism and staff turnover, and improved recruitment and retention of trained staff.

"Sinn Féin does not believe that there are any acceptable excuses when it entails failure to meet worker health and safety standards and obligations under the law.

"Therefore what Sinn Féin would like to see is:

The establishment of a universal All-Ireland Commission on Health, Welfare and Safety at Work, centrally involving the Health and Safety Agency in the South and Health and Safety Executive here in the North.

The initiation of an all-island Workplace Health Strategy to reduce and remove all aspects of ill-health arising from unsafe work practices.

Immediate steps taken to tackle the shortage of Health and Safety inspectors as this has been identified as a major factor hindering the authorities‚ ability to carry out inspection and enforcement functions. This would require an injection of sufficient resources to enable the Health and Safety Executive to fulfil responsibilities under strengthened worker health and safety legislation.

The provision of government grant-aid for trade union safety training on a sectoral basis.

A legal obligation on employers to file an agreed programme of general health and safety training with the Health and Safety Executive - meeting specific requirements depending on the substances and/or processes used in the workplace.

The introduction of a mandatory safety training period with pay, in the first weeks of employment, supported by a programme of continuing refresher courses.

The introduction of regulations obliging employers to notify the Health and Safety Executive of any events at a place of work, including exposure to noxious substances, resulting in worker absences of more than three consecutive days, comparable to the existing obligation to report accidents as provided for under Part X and Schedule 12 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 1993 in the South.

Support for the conclusion of an International Convention against Asbestos Production and Use.

"Although there is widespread support for many of the changes proposed in the British government's draft legislation in relation to the accountability of "companies", there is a failure to give sufficient thought and attention to the accountability of company directors. And even if it did comprehensively address these issues it is not proposed that similar protections would apply to the North of Ireland. Why not?

"Proposals in the Westminster Draft Bill to provide Crown Agencies immunity from prosecution for the offence of corporate killing should be no part of any legislation that applies to workers rights here. All bodies - government or corporate - should be liable to prosecution if culpability or neglect can be proven.

"Corporate Manslaughter legislation, already in place in many countries, is a key tool in the battle to reduce workplace accidents and fatalities.‰

Mr Brolly speaking about the death of his father, Joe Brolly, on a construction site added:

"Nothing has changed much. People still die in their places of work and employers still escape any fitting, proportionate sanction. In the 26 counties in 2005 only 40 employers were prosecuted for breaches of Health and Safety law and the average fine was about £7,000. In the 6 Counties ion the period 2005-2005 a mere 6 employers were penalised.

"No Irish employer has served a day in prison for criminal negligence resulting in the death of an employee.

"As long as company directors are not made personally amenable under the law but can shelter under the umbrella of corporate culpability then we will not have the issue of safety at work tackled with the urgency and thorough commitment required." ENDS

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