I welcome any developments which will improve safety in industry but I object to the fact that no legislation is coming before the House at the moment. The Minister in his opening statement said:
The Bill which I am now introducing will improve the existing laws and should, I hope, reduce the incidence of accidents in industry.
The phrase "I hope" epitomises the Bill. It is just a little bit of hope. Surely, when we are talking about the safety of people, we should talk in a positive way. I am disappointed that hope is the opening gambit.
I suppose when one reads the Bill one can only hope that it may reduce accidents in industry. It would be more relevant to say "reduce accidents in places of employment". The Minister also stated:
I have considered the question of the replacement of the Factories Act, 1955 but I have decided that the balance of advantage, at present, lies in the improvement of the existing law.
The Minister is not very happy with this Bill apparently. The Principal Act was introduced in 1955 and we should not have to wait a further 23 years to have sufficient changes in the law to protect workers. What had the Minister in mind when he made that statement?
I am happy about the statutory obligation on the suppliers of plant to provide the necessary safeguards. That was neglected in the old Act. It is a positive approach that the onus should be placed on the suppliers. It is necessary to look at how one places the onus of safety on the suppliers. The Minister said:
I am proposing that, with the assent of both Houses, the safety Acts may be amended by order so as to comply with any international obligations relating to safety, health and welfare of workers covered by these Acts which we may decide to assume.
I agree that when we are involved with the EEC and regulation come before the House, Bills may be amended by order, but I would not like this to become a habit. I believe we would end up with a fragmented type of legislation which would not have much direction. While I agree it is necessary to amend legislation by order from time to time and that we will be signatories to certain international agreements which will possibly bind us to make changes I believe that after a number of changes are made the legislation should be comprehensively reviewed and brought before the House to have another look at it. This would ensure that it is going in the right direction. It would not then be fragmented to such an extent that it would be impossible to follow. It might be a nice cosy way to change legislation by orders. Orders could be slipped through on certain days of the week when very little might be happening. This could have a severe effect on industrial safety and health. The Minister pointed out:
Safety is one area where the interests of employer and worker should coincide. Workers have an obvious interest in it, and employers have an interest both from the humanitarian and efficiency points of view.
That is very true. Workers have a vested interest in their own safety and it is important that they are consulted on any changes intended in legislation.
Last week Members on this side of the House clearly indicated that there was a complete lack of consultation with representatives of the workers, the trade unions and the ICTU. I do not think the views of the National Industrial Safety Organisation were given much thought. It is not good enough to talk about workers' interests if we are not going to consult them or their interests when preparing such legislation. If legislation like this is to operate effectively it must be with the consent of the workers. It is regrettable that there was not full consultation in this area because, in the long term, that may have repercussions.
In the course of his speech the Minister stated:
A disappointing feature of the 1955 Act in operation has been the limited extent to which workers have availed of their rights to set up safety committees. At present there are just over 250 safety committees operating in a total of 18,000 premises on the Factories Register.
If we introduce legislation and leave it at that workers will be slow, because of lack of information and communication, to take the initiative. If workers were given adequate information about the safety committees I do not think they would be slow to establish them. Had that been done earlier we would have many more such sommittees in operation. I do not think anybody can express disappointment with the workers when they were not consulted. Because they were not consulted the workers possibly felt that the question of safety was a matter for management.
I am not objecting to the system being imposed if it is not possible to get consent but I am objecting to the lack of consultation by the Minister. Had the matter been handled properly in the beginning it would not have been necessary to introduce legislation. Because of this the Minister said he was introducing a radical new approach to this question. I do not see anything radical about introducing legislation if something does not work by consent. That is a normal situation. The Bill may be considered to be a reasonably radical approach but it is not radical in the sense the Minister has stated.
The Minister told us that the hazards of fire, especially in relation to modern materials and processes, are highlighted occasionally by tragic accidents and the provisions relating to fire safety, in particular those relating to fire alarms and fire drills, will be improved considerably. It is important that we examine the whole concept of fire safety. I read recently where a factory in Dublin which went on fire was similar to Spandau because of the number of grids and so on located throughout the premises. I accept that management in that case could argue that because of the law and order situation and vandalism in that district it was necessary to grid up, but there could have been serious loss of life. However, the primary concern must be the safety of the work force. Workers should not be put at risk because of certain security problems. It is obvious that the safety of our workers must come first in this regard. I wonder how many firms have introduced this type of security which could lead to serious accidents in the event of fire. We must ensure that fire regulations are rigidly adhered to. It is obvious that in the case. I have mentioned there was a breakdown in inspection. I am not accusing the inspectors of not doing their work because it is possible that there were not enough inspectors to inspect all premises.
The safety and health of our workers should be covered in a comprehensive Bill which should embrace all areas of activity, industry, agriculture, places of amusement and all places where workers are employed. A Minister may claim that this is not his area but we should be concerned about protecting all workers. It is only when we hear of tragedies that we realise how serious the problem is. It is important that all this legislation be reviewed. If an accident by way of fire took place what loss of life would there be? It is important that all this legislation be reviewed with the intention of getting it into one solid piece that will protect everybody and not just industry. The fire that I am speaking of was in industry and so it is relevant. The inevitable will happen if we do not take action. I ask the Minister to look at that aspect again.
Over the last ten years there has been an increase of over 50 per cent in the total of industrial accidents. Since 1971 we have had roughly 28 fatalities a year. When we have a fatality what type of investigation goes on? Is it merely that the coroner makes a report and somebody walks in and looks at where the accident happened? There should be an open inquiry into every industrial accident, and particularly where a fatality occurs. In the mines, which I believe are not covered in this Bill, we have had about six fatalities over the last few years. It is not enough that a life is lost and we have a report and everything is filed away. When a fatality occurs there should be a fullscale public inquiry with the facts coming out and the blame laid where it should be, and if defects are there they must be put right and seen to be put right. The matter must be publicised, otherwise the effect of a fatality like that will go unnoticed and no lessons will be learned from it. Therefore, it is important that we examine that aspect of it.
What is the cost to the economy every year? Certainly millions of £s. We have fatalities, we have serious and minor accidents, and apart from the humanitarian aspect of the tragedy in the homes because of death or longterm injury, there is the loss to the economy. We have been too complacent, and this Bill is not firm enough nor has it the commitment to do the job it should be doing. From 1955 to 1978 there have been tremendous changes in technology and in industrial development in this country. We have the prospect of gas finds and a nuclear generating station. There is no reason why we should not be copper-fastening into our legislation now provisions to deal with the problems that may arise as a result. We should not be waiting until something happens before looking at the type of legislation we will be introducing. It is easy to learn from others what type of provisions to incorporate in it. I foresee a lack of the right type of legislation and that is why I am not happy with what is with us today. Our present legislation is, to say the least of it, fragmented. We have the Factories Act, the Office Premises Act and miscellaneous statutes such as the Conditions of Employment Act, the Dangerous Substances Act, the Employment Agencies Act and so forth. With that diversity of legislation it is hard to inform people of their rights and indeed it is not easy to define those rights. Therefore, I say the whole area is so fragmented that it is understandable that workers have not been participating in safety committees. They were not sure of their ground, and I do not think they will be until we bring in comprehensive legislation, have proper discussions with them and make a comprehensive, practical handbook available to them, annually or bi-annually depending upon what is being up-dated from time to time, to highlight their rights and their responsibilities to themselves and to their colleagues. Carelessness on the part of workers too often leads to death and serious injury to their fellows. That is why it is necessary that from time to time they be kept up to date with what is happening; otherwise they will drift into situations where safety committees will not be effective. A safety committee can be effective only to the extent that the work force are educated. If the work force are not educated the safety committees might as well be hammering their heads against the proverbial wall, and that is not what we want.
We are all concerned about safety and health within the workplace. We must specify the workplace rather than, necessarily, industry. Too many people are left outside the scope of this legislation. Shops, hospitals, schools, colleges of technology where there are degrees of industry—are they covered? What about the offshore oil rigs and agricultural workers? Over the last number of years a tremendous amount of technology has come into the farm and with the amount of farm machinery now in use an agricultural worker would nearly need a degree in mechanical engineering as well as the experience necessary to run a farm. That will give an idea of the dangers that lie there. Why are we excluding these categories? Is it because of pressure? I do not know. Maybe this is the reason we have not got comprehensive legislation, because no matter what legislation is brought into the House now, the complaint is that it costs money to implement. That seems to be the criterion, and it is disappointing and also immoral. You do not put a price on life or limb; these things cannot be justified. Our concern should be that disasters will not happen, and we live in a fool's paradise if we think it is not going to cost money.
When I talk about efficiency I am talking in the context of the overall operation of a concern rather than the element of productivity but if one visits a concern in which there is safety consciousness, one finds invariably that that firm are in a profit-making situation because of their efficiency in every aspect of their operations. Such a concern are concerned also about the man-hours that could be lost as a result of accidents or fatalities. Therefore, even for no more than selfish reasons if people wish to use the argument that this legislation is costing money, they are being less than honest and one would be likely to find that a concern in which there was such an attitude was also inefficient. That argument, then, should not be used in any circumstances. It is wrong that people in the agricultural sector should not be included in the legislation. To exclude them seems to leave us in a sort of vacuum. Consequently, I would ask the Minister to reconsider this whole question.
Perhaps the reason for being slow in bringing in comprehensive legislation in this area is that we have not given the question enough thought. I cannot foresee us having comprehensive legislation in this sphere unless we reach a stage where we have an independent body operating on their own but under the control of the Minister for Labour. This is important because within the Department the Minister can be involved with many matters about which there is considerable pressure with the result that those areas in which there is the least pressure may be left on the long finger.
The type of independent body that I have in mind would be free to control the type of legislation considered necessary but obviously they would operate in consultation with the Minister. They would supervise the legislation and examine it. Failure to move in this direction would mean our falling down badly in terms of safety and health. Certain boards would need to be comprised so as to include independent members. In that way both sides of industry would be consulted and would in turn make annual reports to the Minister on the safety aspect through the type of independent board I have in mind. The Minister could then have the reports laid down before the House. If we do this we shall be moving towards greater safety. There is no point in paying lip service to the question as has been more or less the situation up to now. The type of board I have in mind is not novel. There is such a body in France. They are a consultative council and operate directly under the Minister for Labour. That situation is quite new in France but it is a positive approach, the type of approach that we need here also.
Unless we make similar provisions here we shall find ourselves having to make changes every few years. It may be that we have not a sufficient inspectorate but the problem is not merely one of going from factory to factory to see if everything is all right. That situation is fine to an extent but it is a rather negative approach. What we require is a whole attitude to this question on the part of management and workers. This would involve the employing of a person who would operate in the role of a safety officer. That would bring us to the whole area of personnel. Most of the inspectorate personnel concerned are engineers. It is right that that be the case because in the context of what we have in industry the inspectors need the sort of training undertaken by an engineer. However, the time has come for us to have comprehensive training for our industrial inspectorate. I am thinking of the setting up perhaps of a Chair in one of the colleges of technology for the specific purpose of training personnel who would become engaged in inspection work. Their role would not be negative in any way. For instance, it would not be merely a role of ensuring that the law was adhered to but of going into the work places for the purpose of consultation, education and communication and of making people aware of the dangers that should be avoided.
To implement such measures would put us well on the road to preventing accidents at work, at least in so far as they can be prevented having regard to the human element involved. If we are serious about the matter—and I think all of us here are serious about it—we must ensure that the personnel involved are given the right type of training, that there is the right educational commitment and we must be able to go into the work place not only to meet the safety committee but to talk with the workers generally. The inspectors could talk in detail with the safety committee who in turn would communicate the views expressed to the work force. Refresher courses could be provided to remind them of the problems, how they can be overcome and how accidents happen. The accidents should be detailed, reported and referred back to the independent board so that at all times there is a complete monitoring of every accident no matter how small. We should ask ourselves the following questions: why, how and what can we do to prevent it? Was it due to excessive hours worked by the employee? Was the machinery defective? Prevention is the important thing and we can only have prevention by monitoring.
The number of accidents which happen and the number reported do not relate. We will have to concern ourselves with that problem. When an accident happens it must be reported to the smallest detail. The safety board will look at that accident and make their recommendations to the safety committee in the industry and to the management to ensure it will not happen again. This can also be reported in a handbook which may be passed from one industry to another because if an accident happens in one industry it may also happen in another.
Safety officers should frequent places of employment as often as possible, at least once a year, and carry out what is known as a safety audit. Stock is checked and cash is audited but are work places audited for safety? I do not think so. Why not? This is an example of our reluctance to take this area very seriously. It is very important that we carry out safety audits and report to the management and safety committees the areas that may require attention. From year to year industry may expand and new machinery may be brought in. It is important that the audit be done on a regular basis because of the changing circumstances. The Minister should look into this matter.
I am always worried about plant isolation, particularly automated plants. If there is manual control the operator can throw a switch but in automated plants quite often the control centre is some distance from the plant and can be handled carelessly. We must write into our legislation very stringent provisions to ensure that plant isolation is comprehensively taken care of. It is not very easy to get a set of rules but we must get them because circumstances change almost daily and plants are being switched on by remote control far from the actual plant. When a maintenance man switches on the machinery that is the end of his job so far as he is concerned. The Minister must also look at this.
This Bill does not talk about health nor does the title mention health. When most countries are discussing industrial safety they usually mention industrial safety and health. That is the way it should be, because both are relevant. If the atmosphere is polluted this can adversely affect the people's health.
We have always had a certain amount of mining but from the point of view of the industrial content we are now moving into mining in a very big way. Unless stringent controls are enforced as regards working conditions in this industry, the health of the people involved will deteriorate rapidly. Various diseases can be contracted and we should learn from other countries, such as Canada, America and so on, which have been in the mining business for years. We now have active legislation to ensure that there is no danger for our workers. There can be a problem in asbestos plants because it has been proved that asbestos can cause some forms of cancer and this creates great fear. Are we passing the right kind of legislation to meet that kind of situation? Let us not wait until the inevitable happens.
We must ensure that our industrial standards are the highest and we must not settle for second place because it might win us a little more industry than other countries which might demand higher standards. Our workers are entitled to have the highest standards of safety and health. We must concern ourselves with the overall aspect of health as well as the body, the limb, the life.
Our legislation does not cover the whole area of nuclear power and there is a justifiable fear here. It is only normal for the people involved in that industry to allay the fears of others by telling them there is no real danger but there are positive dangers, such as radiation. We must ensure that any danger to health is protected strenuously. We must be very strict and rigid in the rules we lay down for any development in the nuclear field. We are only talking about a generating station at the moment but there may be further offshoots of nuclear operations for one reason or another.
Once we enter the nuclear sphere of activity it is essential that we should be ahead in technological safety. We are not groping in the dark here because nuclear development has been with us for the last 20 or 30 years and we can learn from the experience in other countries and improve on their techniques. They may have been inhibited because of cost. We should suffer no such inhibition because we can incorporate all the technological development over that period.
We should have comprehensive legislation encompassing all work forces. It is wrong to exclude any work force and such exclusion does a disservice to our community. All are entitled to protection. We have a duty here to provide maximum safety for all sections. The service industry is growing very big and requires special assessment. This Bill leaves much to be desired. It is a makeshift effort. The Minister may amend it by order. That could have adverse effects. Piecemeal legislation is never satisfactory because it only confuses people.
A great deal of work in rural areas can be done in the home. Work is farmed out to people. There are no proposals here to cover these people. This is an area in which there could be substantial development and we should write into our legislation safeguards to protect the people who take work into their own homes. In the United States of America a handbook for women in industry has been published. This is an excellent idea. Women are now moving into industry and they should be aware of the hazards and the dangers. I am thinking mainly now of women of childbearing age.
There could be problems particularly in chemical industries. We are striving to attract such industries. Dangers in such industries should be publicised or eliminated altogether. Periodic review is absolutely vital and there should be an independent body competent to inform and advise the Minister. The reports of such a body should be laid before both Houses so that Members would be aware of the problems and the changes required. Right through every facet of our work force there should be an awareness of health hazards or dangers. If that were the case there would not be need for scrutiny or more legislation because the people themselves would respond. That is the only way in which to achieve a proper code of safety for those in employment.
I welcome any legislation designed to improve health and safety. I am unhappy because this Bill has excluded so many. It is propping up outdated legislation. It may be only 23 years in existence but, in the context of industrial development and technology, it is outmoded. The law needs to be rewritten. I would welcome a comprehensive Bill. It does not give me any pleasure to come in here and be critical of any Bill designed to improve safety. This Bill is totally inadequate. I had been hoping for something far more comprehensive.
Perhaps the quality of this legislation is the result of lack of consultation. Were the farmers and their organisations consulted? Were the service industries consulted? Were the vocational bodies who are involved in employment consulted? If not, one can understand the inadequacy of this measure. Legislation of this kind which affects so many workers can be introduced only after much consultation both with management and the unions. At the moment the Minister seems to be more involved in lecturing the unions than in consulting them, in telling them how to discipline their boys. In matters of this kind one does not talk down to people or have a weekend indulging in union bashing and then hope to get their co-operation. If we want unions and management to co-operate and to involve themselves in matters of this kind we must encourage them instead of discouraging them: we must ensure that the measure which comes before the House will be a reflection of their voices.
When we see a Bill of this sort before the House it is not hard to appreciate that out of 18,000 firms, only 250 have taken the time to set up works committees. Talking down to people, handing down the law in an arbitrary fashion, will not achieve any co-operation from either management or unions. Therefore, before this Bill goes any further I suggest that the Minister engages in fuller consultation with every area involved, industry, agriculture, horticulture and service and vocational organisations. This Bill and other matters appertaining to industrial safety and health should be discussed fully with them.
This seems to be an inadequate interim measure and I hope we will not wait for directives from the EEC before we draft and present proper industrial health and safety measures. We should try to be ahead of other countries instead of waiting for directives from the other eight. We should be writing legislation now to take account of advances in the technological and agricultural fields. We are in changing times and we will have to take account in the immediate future of our involvement in mining, petrochemicals, natural gas and a number of other fields. All these should be sewn into this legislation. We should not be wondering what will come from the EEC. We should not be dragging our feet. If we get into that habit this House will become an EEC rubber stamp and this Parliament will become the Greater Ireland County Council.
Therefore, I repeat my call to the Minister to look into this Bill fully and if necessary to drop it and rewrite it to cover every aspect of industrial safety and health. I do not care if it takes six months to do it. Ultimately it will have to be done. I would agree to passing this legislation quickly as an interim arrangement if I could get an undertaking from the Minister that comprehensive legislation will be forthcoming. In his opening remarks the Minister told us he had decided that the balance of advantage at present lies in improving existing law. I ask him to indicate when he is replying what he meant by those words. I hope he will indicate that he will present a comprehensive safety and health Bill soon.