Dáil Éireann - Volume 494 - 30 September, 1998
Written Answers - Health and Safety Standards.
Mr. Gormley Mr. Gormley
 153. Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps, if any, she proposes to take in order to implement a tougher approach to safety on building sites, resource a more aggressive policy on the part of the Health and Safety Authority in its dealings with the construction industry, have employers take the safety situation of workers more seriously, ensure that workers on building sites are properly and appropriately trained and introduce tougher punitive measures against employers found to be in breach of safety regulations in view of the fatalities on building site that occurred over the summer months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16999/98]
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt) Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt)
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt): There is an extensive block of health and safety legislation in Ireland which adequately meets the requirements necessary to protect our workforce and which conforms to best international practices. Measures such as the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, the 1993 general application regulations and the 1995 construction regulations provide a solid legislative framework by which effective and co-ordinated management of all construction projects can be ensured, and by which health and safety standards can be set. This legislation specifies that it is the primary duty of every individual employer to identify and manage the health and safety needs of his or her own business, and also lays down the duties of clients, designers and workers.
The National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health is responsible for the enforcement of all occupational health and safety legislation. The authority works to a targeted annual work programme and focuses on sectors with high accident rates and, in particular, the construction sector. The Safety, Health and Walfare at Work Act, 1989, applies to all sectors of employment and the authority approaches its considerable tasks on the basis of a successful combination of information, inspection and enforcement. The authority has always adopted a pro-active approach to its work and, given the ever evolving nature of work to-day, has proven itself more than capable of responding appropriately in different ways to different situations.
In this regard, in response to concerns about construction site safety, the authority launched its construction action programme during the summer. This action programme is a wide-ranging exercise which seeks to involve all the players, from client to workers, and to highlight their respective roles in improving site safety. The series of measures announced by the authority, if acted on by all the players in the industry, should help to bring accident rates in construction down to levels in other industries. These measures include the following; clients must be familiar with their legal responsibilities including the need to appoint competent personnel and must be generally  aware of work under way, including any major problems arising on safety. To this end the authority will notify major clients who are currently having construction works carried out of the fact of prohibition notices and prosecution proceedings in respect of those works. Public sector clients have a major role to play given the size of the public capital programme. I have written to all my Government colleagues asking them to ensure that no public sector contract is awarded to a firm or contractor who does not have a safety statement as they are obliged to do so under the 1989 Act. Also, the authority is working with the Government contracts committee to see what other measures can be put in place, while still operating within the regulatory framework of public procurement.
It is hoped to involve designers in the improvement of safety standards in new developments, through training and awareness raising exercises.
The training of workers is another key area of concern. In this regard, FÁS will bring together its various training programmes under its new construction skills certification scheme, but of course all personnel on site, whether site managers, employees, sub-contractors or the self-employed need to receive appropriate training in health and safety on a systematic basis. The authority will be discussing with representatives of the industry ways of ensuring that training initiatives such as this have the maximum take-up.
The role of workers themselves has always been crucial at the place of work — workers too have duties and responsibilities to look after their own safety and that of their colleagues. Safety consultation, including safety committee meetings and tool box talks, will be encouraged among construction workers.
The authority has set up a construction inspection team who will cover this sector exclusively, and will do so with vigour and enthusiasm. By making this expertise available to the industry a marked improvement in standards is expected. Contractors with poor safety records will be asked to work with the authority in a structured programme to improve their safety management systems.
In addition, the authority will continue to make every effort to disseminate good quality information on best practice. For example, the authority is currently working with the industry to produce a new code of practice on scaffolding.
The authority's response is a comprehensive one — the authority has never operated in a “stalemate” manner in relation to its obligations, and this construction action programme is another welcome example of its pro-active approach to its statutory functions and obligations.
The programme is, of course, underpinned by the punitive sanctions to which the authority has recourse under health and safety legislation. While the authority has always emphasised the value of working in partnership with industry,  and will continue to do so, nonetheless, it will not hesitate to use those sanctions where necessary.
As the Deputy will be aware, I have also recently announced sanction for the recruitment of a further 13 staff to the Health and Safety Authority. This is in addition to the seven posts which were authorised from the start of this year as an immediate measure to relieve the pressure under which the authority was then operating. This most recent sanction will bring the total staff complement in the authority to 132 and will put it in a better position to meet the ever increasing demands being placed upon it from all sectors of employment, including the construction sector. I would like to emphasise that this particular package represents part of an ongoing process designed to take account of the development needs of the authority over the next two to three years as it consolidates its present role and takes on new responsibilities.
However, what needs to be fully acknowledged is that while additional resources are essential to the authority, no amount of health and safety inspectors by themselves will eliminate workplace accidents if employers and workers alike do not take more responsibility for their own safety. To this end, I have had a number of meetings with both SIPTU and CIF to discuss the main issues of common concern within the construction sector and with a view to facilitating and strengthening the essential partnership approach to tackling these issues. A spirit of true partnership, to match the Government's commitment of increased resources, can bring about very real and substantial change.
Dáil Éireann 494 Written Answers Health and Safety Standards.