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Health & Safety in Ireland Update – The HSA Annual Review and Recent Enforcement Proceedings

February 2021
Sarah Conroy, Cian O'Gorman and Conor Williams

In December 2020, the Health and Safety Authority (“HSA”) published its Annual Review of Workplace Injury, Illness and Fatality Statistics (the “Review”). The Review details the incidence of occupational death, illness and injury in the workplace in Ireland and is a useful indicator of the continuing and emerging trends in health and safety matters in the, allowing employers to identify and analyse potential issues and take preventative measures accordingly.

The Review provides an analysis of the data, including a comparison with international statistics, and it is divided into two sections: non-fatal injuries and illnesses and fatal injuries, which are considered in further detail below.

Key Statistics

Manual handling was again the leading cause of work-related non-fatal injuries in 2019, accounting for 29% of the 9,335 accidents reported to the Authority. This was followed by slipping and falling accidents which led to 24% of injuries. Manual handling and slipping and falling have been the two leading causes of injuries for the past 5 years. The most common working environment for non-fatal workplace accidents was industrial or maintenance areas at 25% of all instances.

The most common injury sustained was back injury, at 20%. Most non-fatal injuries reported to the Authority resulted in fewer than 14 days of work lost. Almost 60% of all reported injuries led to 4-6 days (28%) or 7-13 days (31%) of lost work; this is in keeping with the average for 2015–2019.

The economic sectors with the highest rates of non-fatal injury, leading to four or more days absence from work were:

(i)            Construction (16.7 per 1,000 workers);

(ii)           Health and Social Work (13.4 per 1,000 workers); and

(iii)          Transportation and Storage (13.2 per 1,000 workers).

The economic sectors with the highest rate of work-related illnesses leading to four or more days absence from work was Health and Social Work (21.9 per 1,000 workers), followed by Education (19.9 per 1,000 workers) and Financial, Insurance and Real Estate Activities (18.9 per 1,000 workers). Female workers had higher rates of illness (15.7 per 1,000 workers) than male workers (11.1 per 1,000 workers), again in keeping with the average for previous years.

Workplace fatalities

There were 47 fatal work-related accidents in 2019. This is an increase from the record low number of 39 fatal accidents in 2018, but comparable with the five-year average for 2015-2019 of 47.6 fatal accidents. The rate of worker accident fatalities was 1.8 per 100,000 workers in 2019, an increase on the rate of 1.5 per 100,000 in 2018. This still represents a considerable reduction from the rate of 3.8 per 100,000 recorded in 1998, when the figures were first complied by the Central Statistics Office “CSO” in their Labour Force Survey, showing that in that period there has been a significant reduction in fatal workplace accidents.

The construction sector accounted for a quarter (12) of fatalities, followed by transportation and storage (6). Falling from height was the single largest cause of fatalities, causing 11 fatal accidents. Other instances included loss of control of vehicles (9) and falling objects (6).

Prosecutions

The HSA is routinely involved in workplace inspections and where necessary, they bring enforcement proceedings against employers for failure to implement a safe system of work. Proceedings may be issued against employers under s.77 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, which allows the imposition on conviction on indictment of a fine up to €3,000,000 or imprisonment for a term up to 2 years, or both.

The following enforcement proceedings were published recently by the HSA:

  • In December 2020, enforcement proceedings were taken by the HSA in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court against a company following the death of an employee at their premises where an object had fallen from height causing fatal injuries. The company pleaded guilty to an offence under s.8(2)(a) of the 2005 Act contrary to s.77(9)(a), in that it failed to manage and conduct its undertaking in a manner that ensured the safety at work of its employees. The Court imposed a fine of €850,000.
  • In November 2020, a self-employed contractor carrying out maintenance works at a company’s warehouse suffered serious injuries as a result of falling through a roof. This is an example of the HSA bringing proceedings where a non-employee is injured in a place of work. The Court in this case imposed a €80,000 fine following a guilty plea to two charges under the 2005 Act, for: failure to ensure, that a place of work made available to a person other than their employee was safe and without risk to health and failure to carry out a risk assessment in relation to the hazards of working on a fragile roof.

Summary

The Review provides invaluable statistics which enable employers to identify high risk aspects of their workplace and workplace practices. Identifying risks factors gives employers an opportunity to implement preventative measures, such as training, adequate supervision, personal protective clothing and protective infrastructure.

The Review allows employers to understand the primary risks faced by their workers in a sector specific manner. Employers in the construction and retail industries, for example, should pay particular attention to the provision of manual handling training and implementation of measures to prevent slip and fall accidents, given the statistics consistently evidence that they are the largest cause of workplace-related injury.

Finally, a key takeaway is the HSA’s note that the average age of workplace accident victims is steadily increasing, reflecting an ageing work force and strong recommendation that employers should tailor their health and safety policies accordingly where needed.

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