Dáil Éireann - Volume 514 - 09 February, 2000

Written Answers. - Construction Industry.

60. Mr. B. O'Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the dangers to workers involved in the construction industry in interfering with underground cables. [22180/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt): The administration, enforcement and promotion of occupational health and safety legislation is a day-to-day matter for the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health, known as the Health and Safety Authority.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, the 1993 general application regulations and the 1995 construction regulations all provide a strong legislative base by which safety standards in the construction sector can be managed. Under the 1989 Act the primary duty of care to provide a safe working environment and safe systems of work for employees rests with the employer.

In relation to the specific issue raised by the Deputy, that is, the hazard to workers arising from interference with underground electrical cables, I have been informed by the Health and Safety Authority that this is a matter of concern to them, and that the authority is continuing its efforts, both by direct enforcement and by co-operation with all sides in the construction industry, to get the industry to give appropriate attention to the issue. I would also point out to the Deputy that the 1995 construction regulations require that a preliminary safety plan should be produced at the project design stage for all but the smallest developments. This safety plan must include consideration of the existing environment including underground services and overhead lines.

61. Mr. Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she has satisfied herself with the level of safety currently provided for workers in the construction industry; the number of deaths which have occurred as a result of work in this industry in each of the past [222] five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3366/00]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt): The administration, enforcement and promotion of occupational health and safety legislation is a day-to-day matter for the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health, known as the Health and Safety Authority.

The proper management of workplace health and safety in all sectors of employment is based on the principles of legislation, enforcement, information and partnership. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, the 1993 general application regulations and the 1995 construction regulations all provide a strong legislative base by which safety standards in the construction sector can and should be managed.

Statistical information concerning the number of fatalities, injuries and inspections in any work sector is collected by the Health and Safety Authority and is therefore obtainable directly from the authority at 10 Hogan Place, Dublin 2.

I have, however, been informed by the authority that the number of construction-related fatalities reported to the authority over the past five years is as follows:–

Year

Number of Fatalities

1995

13

1996

14

1997

15

1998

29

1999

18

I would also like to inform the Deputy that I have recently secured Government sanction to allow the authority to increase its staff numbers by 25 in 2000, thereby bringing its total staff complement to 160. These additional resources will be a very valuable asset in targeting high-risk sectors such as construction, in the context of inspection and enforcement activities.

I would stress, however, that a reduction in accidents and fatalities in any sector will not be brought about simply by the provision of extra inspectors. Inspection is, but one element, in the drive to improve safety standards in all sectors of employment. While the primary statutory duty of care to ensure a safe place of work rests with the employer, joint responsibility, commitment and participation, from all sides, is necessary to foster safe work practices at ground level. Nowhere is this more vital than in the construction sector.

A good example of a partnership approach to workplace safety is the construction safety partnership which I launched in October of last year. The report of the partnership is currently being finalised and is due to be submitted to me later this month. This report will include actions, agreed by employers and workers in the industry, aimed at bringing about major improvements in health and safety in the construction sector.