Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Health & Safety Authority call on more organisations across all sectors to appoint safety representatives within their workplaces

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The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Health and Safety Authority are calling on more organisations across all sectors to appoint safety representatives within their workplaces, to help foster a culture of workplace safety and in turn prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths.

The appeal came on Workers’ Memorial Day, a day dedicated to remembering workers who have lost their lives, been injured or contracted illnesses at or because of work. A special national commemorative ceremony was held at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.

459 people died in work-related incidents in Ireland over the past decade (2014 – 2023). Despite the numbers in employment increasing, the Health and Safety Authority records show an overall decrease in the rate of workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers in Ireland over this period, from a rate of 2.8 in 2014 to 1.6 in 2023. (see graph in notes to editor)

“One death is one too many,” said Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Emer Higgins TD.“Every workplace should prioritise the health and safety of its employee and do all in its power to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. Positive worker engagement and consultation with trade unions, including the selection of Safety Representatives, is a tangible way towards engraining a safer working environment, where employees feel valued, protected and empowered to speak up about safety concerns. By embracing the Safety Representative model, organisations demonstrate their commitment to prioritising the well-being of employees and promote a culture of safety excellence”she added.

Safety representatives are workers who serve as liaisons between management and staff, advocating for effective safety protocols. Safety representatives play a pivotal role in safeguarding the well-being of workers, identifying hazards, and supporting employers in implementing proactive measures to mitigate risks.

Their presence not only enhances workplace safety but also promotes open communication channels, enabling swift resolution of safety issues before they escalate into serious incidents.

“All of the evidence shows workplace safety works best when there is genuine partnership, and consultation and collective bargaining between employers and trade unions,” said Owen Reidy, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.Under the current legislation, employees are entitled to elect a safety representative to represent them on safety and health matters with their employer. On construction sites where there are more than 20 people employed at any one time, the project supervisor for the construction stage must facilitate the appointment of a safety representative. There are thousands of trade union safety representatives in workplaces nationwide, but we need more.Together we can honour the memory of fallen workers, create safer workplaces, and protect lives,” he added.

43 people were killed in workplace incidents in 2023. Of the 43 fatalities, 39 were workers, while 4 were non workers. So far this year, 10 people have lost their lives in workplace incidents. Working with vehicles (13 fatalities) and falling from height (11 fatalities) were the leading causes of work-related fatalities in 2023.

62-year-old John McCann from Clondalkin, in Dublin lost his life when he fell from a height on a construction site in Ringsend Co. Dublin in 2019. As part of the Workers’ Memorial Day ceremony, the McCann family laid a wreath in honour of John and all workers killed in workplace incidents.

“When dad went out to work that morning, we could not have imagined he would never return,” said John’s daughter Denise McCann.But sadly, thousands of families across the country have suffered the same pain and loss we are going through as a result of a workplace incident, injury or illness. The vast majority of these incidents were preventable.For all employers listening, I beg of you, make health and safety your top priority.Carry out risk assessments and put the necessary measures in place to protect lives.Together, let’s build a future where every worker returns home safely.”

Of the 43 work-related fatalities recorded in 2023, Agriculture, forestry and fishing accounted for 20 fatalities, while the construction sector accounted for the second highest fatalities, with 11 reported in 2023. 53% of all workplace fatalities recorded in 2023 were self-employed, while 51% were workers aged over 55.

“We’ve made significant strides since the inception of the Health and Safety Authority in 1989, evident in the halving of the fatality rate,” said Conor O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer of the Health and Safety Authority.But there is still a huge amount of work to do and absolutely no room for complacency. As the economy continues to prosper and employment increases, it is vital that safety and health for all workers is prioritised.

The changing world of work, driven in many ways by technology and new ways of working, has created emerging and evolving challenges in ensuring the safety, health and welfare of all workers. These challenges are likely to only increase in the future. Whole new industries have emerged. New jobs that didn’t exist just 10 years ago are now commonplace.  These changes have created new workplace hazards that all employers must now consider,” he added.