Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill 2004: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill 2004 represents a modernisation of our occupational health and safety laws. It is significant social legislation which affirms the Government's interest in ensuring that labour law is kept up to date and relevant. The Bill's publication in 2004 by the Minister of State, Frank Fahey, coincided with the establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, which makes this a significant year. Issues of compensation and prevention are being seriously addressed. The Bill updates and amends the provisions of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 which was steered through the Oireachtas by the Taoiseach who was then the Minister for Labour.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill consolidates safety, health and welfare primary legislation into one statute and includes the provisions of framework Directive 89/391 on safety and health and the directive on fixed-term and temporary employees. While its primary focus is on the prevention of workplace accidents, illnesses and dangerous occurrences, the Bill provides also for significantly increased fines and penalties which are aimed at deterring the minority who continue to flout safety and health laws. The Bill includes a scheme for which regulations will be necessary whereby on-the-spot fines can be introduced for minor safety and health offences. It also provides that directors and managers in companies can be held liable to prosecution if they are complicit in deaths and accidents at work.

This legislation sets the scene for achieving further improvements in the national record on safety and health over the next few decades. The presentation of the legal requirements set out in legislation is improved and simpler language is used where possible to help employers and employees to understand its content. The Bill includes a basis for reviewing the remaining older statutes on safety and health with a view to their possible repeal and replacement with modern regulations made under its provisions. The Bill imposes some additional new duties on employers and employees and strikes a balance between the roles and duties to be placed on them. It includes important new protection for employees against penalisation for exercising rights or duties related to safety and health at work and contains new provisions on safety consultation between employers and employees. These provisions include new supports for safety representatives and the recognition of safety committees. The Bill also updates the rules on corporate governance of the Health and Safety Authority.

It is useful to reflect on the background to this legislation. The 1989 Act applied safety and health laws for the first time to all Irish employments. It implemented recommendations made by a tripartite commission of inquiry into occupational health and safety which was chaired by Mr. Justice Barrington. The introduction of the 1989 Act coincided with the recognition internationally that prevention of accidents and ill health at work was better than to continue with the reactive approach of enforcement alone which had been in vogue previously. Significant progress was made on the basis of the 1989 Act. There is now a greatly increased awareness of occupational safety and health among employers and workers and preventative measures are in place in many instances. While the efforts of employers, workers, the Health and Safety Authority and other stakeholders have brought about a reduction in the rate of deaths and accidents at work since the introduction of the 1989 Act, more can be done. There continues to be an unacceptably high level of deaths and accidents at work.

In 2002, the latest year for which figures are available from the Central Statistics Office, it is estimated that nationally 117,800 persons suffered injury at work or occupational illness arising from work activities. This resulted in the loss of 3.16 million workdays among those in employment as opposed to 21,000 days lost to industrial disputes. Days lost to industrial accidents and illness in 2002 alone exceeded those lost through industrial disputes over the past ten years. The rate of injury and illness among those employed decreased by 15% between 1999 and 2002 despite the growth in employment. However, the human cost arising from death, pain and suffering makes an unarguable case for ensuring that our social legislation in this area is relevant to changing conditions of work.

The most common injuries reported to the Health and Safety Authority for all employment sectors were injuries involving handling, lifting and carrying, at 34%. Slips, trips and falls accounted for 26% of injuries. In the defence and health sectors of the public health service, the next most common incident was violence in the workplace. Occupational illnesses tend not to be reported to the Health and Safety Authority which is a matter I would like to address when I review the regulations which apply. In 2003, 65 people died as a result of work activities. While this figure represents a reduction of 25% in the rate of deaths at work since 1998, it is unacceptable. No death at work is acceptable and we require the further measures outlined in the provisions of this Bill to bring about further reductions in this area.

It is particularly relevant to note that there are now 1.9 million people employed in our economy as opposed to only 1.2 million in 1989. As many of those at work in 1989 have by now left the workforce, it is important to use this legislation to re-launch and promote worker health and safety and focus on the well-being of the many who have joined the workforce during our time of economic success.

While the reduction of accidents and ill health at work is an important social goal considering the pain and suffering caused to individuals and their families, there are also important economic factors to consider. A range of costs accrue to the economy from the injury of people at work, including direct costs to the State's health services and social insurance. There are costs to employers, including insurance costs, lost time, lost production and lost orders. Injuries and ill health at work are conservatively estimated to cost the economy up to €1.6 billion each year. The absence of a key worker through injury from a small or medium-sized company could have disastrous results for it and the other workers. Adopting additional measures to encourage reductions in accidents and illnesses at work makes good economic and business sense.

Occupational safety and health have been significant elements of social policy in the European Union over the past 25 years. Since the framework directive on safety and health was adopted in 1989, a considerable range of directives have been put in place to cover particular employment sectors or risk groups. All these directives have been implemented in Irish law under the auspices of the 1989 Act. As we played our part in the negotiations on these directives, we were guided by the principle that they should be workable and avoid holding back the development of small companies.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, charged the Health and Safety Authority with the task of reviewing the 1989 Act. I thank the board of the authority, its chairman, Mr. Frank Cunneen, and Mr. Joe Hegarty, the chairman of the review group, for the comprehensive report and recommendations which were produced. I have found it possible to address the majority of the recommendations in the Bill. I look forward to the continued co-operation and commitment of the various stakeholders in giving full effect to the Bill when it is enacted.

The 1989 Act and the new Bill are framework in nature. They focus on broad general duties and the organisational and structural arrangements necessary to achieve better safety and health. The regulations implementing directives put flesh on the detailed requirements needed to identify and deal with specific hazards in the workplace. Welcome indications of the success of our efforts were evident in a report published this year by EUROSTAT which showed that Ireland had the lowest rate of accidents at work among 15 member states of the European Union. We have the fifth highest number of deaths at work, which figure we must reduce. We can and must do better from a social point of view and from the perspective of maintaining our competitiveness by reducing the costs which can flow from accidents and illnesses in the workplace.

A report published by the European Commission this year on the implementation of a number of the health and safety directives illustrated that there continues to be a lack of awareness in small companies about safety and health. A great deal of work must be done to implement information and training measures. The report also pointed to a poor level of compliance in the public sector across the European Union. The public sector in Ireland employs many people in health services, education and so forth and I will be looking to them to make significant improvements in our national record.

I will now outline the main features of the Bill. One of its aims is to encourage a responsible attitude on the part of employers and employees. It is appropriate to provide for a system of on-the-spot fines by inspectors.

Section 79 provides that the level of the on-the-spot fine shall not exceed €1,000 and will be detailed in the regulations. I will propose a relatively low fee initially. I will identify in regulations the employment sectors and the minor offences to which the fine will apply. The authority will not initiate a prosecution before the due date of payment of an on-the-spot fine. If payment is made on time, no prosecution will be launched.

Section 13, which deals with duties of employees, provides that they must comply with relevant safety and health laws; not be under the influence of an intoxicant in the place of work to the extent that the state they are in is likely to endanger their safety, health or welfare at work or that of any other person; not engage in improper conduct or behaviour; wear personal protective clothing where necessary; co-operate with employers and look out for one another; and not do anything which would place themselves or others at risk. Where an employee is working in a safety critical situation, he or she, subject to regulations, may be required to undergo a periodic medical assessment of fitness to work. Some concern has been expressed regarding one of the provisions of section 13 which relates to possible tests for intoxicants. It is only in particular circumstances or sectors that regulations may set down requirements whereby an employee must, if reasonably required by his or her employer, submit to independent tests by a competent person which are appropriate, reasonable and proportionate. There will be widespread consultation on these regulations.

It will continue to be a requirement of every employer to have a written safety statement which identifies the risks and hazards in the place of work and, under a new requirement, it will have to be reviewed annually. A novel feature is that an employer with three or fewer employees can meet the safety statement requirement by adhering to a special code of practice to be developed for a particular industry or sector by the Health and Safety Authority. This will reduce the onus on business and the likely beneficiaries will be in the farming sector and small businesses in the maintenance and service sectors.

Section 77 provides for two categories of offences. The first applies to less serious matters and the second covers the more serious offences under health and safety laws. I welcome the increased recognition given by the courts to the seriousness of committing safety and health offences and the increases in the level of fines in recent years. It is necessary and appropriate to reflect this trend in the Bill to send a clear message to those tempted not to comply. Too much is at stake. Section 78 provides for a fine not exceeding €3,000 for a person found guilty of an offence under the first category of offences set out in section 77 applying to less serious offences. A person guilty of any other offence set out in section 77 is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €3,000 or imprisonment for up to six months or both. On conviction on indictment for a more serious offence, the maximum fine is €3 million or imprisonment for up to two years or both. In addition, the person convicted can be ordered to pay the authority's costs and expenses.

Primary responsibility for worker safety and health falls on employers, including in private companies and in the public sector, because it is, in effect, they who create the risks. Responsibility begins at the top. Company directors and managers therefore carry a significant social responsibility to protect safety and health. In 2003, 11 convictions were obtained against directors, managers and employees. The placing of greater emphasis on this responsibility will alert directors and managers thereto. It will help focus their minds on compliance with the requirements on companies to ensure competent persons are available to advise on health and safety issues and to implement safety measures.

Section 80 makes explicit the responsibilities of directors and managers. It adopts an evidence-based approach. It provides that when an offence under health and safety laws is committed by an undertaking and the acts involved were authorised or consented to or were attributable to connivance or neglect on the part of a director, manager or other similar officer in the undertaking, both the person and the undertaking will be guilty of an offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished as if the person was guilty of the offence committed by the undertaking. If it is proven in such a case that the person's duties included making decisions that affected the management of the undertaking, it is presumed, until the contrary is proved, that the acts which resulted in the offence were authorised, consented to or attributable to connivance or neglect on the part of that person.

A full set of definitions is set out in section 2, including important new definitions of the terms "competent person" and "reasonably practicable". These definitions are included, in part, so as to satisfy concerns of the European Commission on implementation of the framework directive. The definition of competent person provides a basis for the orderly recognition of various qualifications in safety and health introduced over the past two decades. The term "reasonably practicable" used in the Bill and also in the 1989 Act seeks to qualify the broad based duties on employers which stem from the common law duties of care which are difficult to interpret in absolute terms. The new definition is focused around compliance with current best standards in safety and health.

Section 7 provides that health and safety must be complied with by self-employed persons as if they were employers and as if they were their own employees. There are many who are self-employed including in construction and agriculture. Part 2 of the Bill sets out the duties which are appropriate to employers, employees and others who can influence or effect safety, health and welfare in the workplace.

Section 8 sets out the general duties of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare of employees. These include duties in regard to the management and conduct of work, preventing improper conduct or behaviour, providing safe workplaces, safe means of access and egress, safe plant and machinery, providing articles and substances that are safe to work with, protecting against noise, vibration or radiation and providing safe systems of work. The employer must also provide welfare facilities and the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure safety and health. He or she must also decide on and implement any safety, health and welfare measures which are necessary and provide protective clothing and equipment as appropriate and have emergency plans in place. Employers may be required by regulation to report to the authority accidents to employees and dangerous occurrences. Regulations to support this requirement are already in place. The employer's duties also extend to fixed-term contract or temporary contract employees. Under section 8, employers cannot charge employees for safety and health measures.

The availability of good information is critical to the avoidance of accidents and ill health at work. By now, a great deal of practical information on how to deal with workplace hazards is available, including from the Health and Safety Authority. Section 9 sets out in greater detail the types of information on safety, health and welfare required to be given by employers to employees under section 8. The information must be in a form, manner and language that can be understood. This will also help to protect immigrant workers who contribute to our economy. Work on language versions of guidance documents is under way in the Health and Safety Authority. They must include information on hazards, risks and measures taken as regards safety, health and welfare and the names of emergency staff and safety representatives. Employees of another employer working in the place of work must also be informed and there is a duty on such employees to co-operate with one another.

The competent persons who must be appointed by the employer under section 18 and safety representatives, if any, must be given additional information on risk assessment and on accidents and dangerous occurrences. The employer must also give fixed-term and temporary employees information on any potential risk, health surveillance and any special skills required for the job. An employer who hires an employee through a temporary employment business must inform that concern of the skills required for the job and its specific features and ensure the information is passed on to the employees. The temporary employment business is obliged to give the same information to employees. These are important provisions considering many people are recruited through employment agencies.

Analyses of accidents and illnesses at work show that they often happen where workers are not supervised or given instructions or training in how to work safely. Young workers are especially vulnerable in this respect. Section 10 sets out the specific requirements in the instruction, training and supervision of employees by employers in support of the general duty in section 8. Instruction and training must be given in a form, manner and language that can be understood. Employees must also be given training in safety and health and time off from work and at no cost. Training must include information and instructions in the job to be carried out and emergency measures. In assigning an employee to a job, the employer must take account of his or her physical and mental capabilities. In the case of groups of particularly sensitive employees and employees covered by specific safety and health legislation, such as pregnant women or young workers, the employer must ensure they are protected against the specific dangers involved. In cases where legislation requires specific health and safety training, such as in construction, employees must be released for training without loss of pay.

Section 11 provides for the measures to be taken by the employer in emergencies and in the case of serious and imminent danger in support of the general duties on employers in section 8 to have plans and procedures for emergencies. The measures must cover first aid, fire fighting and the evacuation of employees and others present in the workplace, as well as contacts with the emergency services and the designation of employees to carry out the emergency plans.

Section 12 provides that an employer must manage and conduct business, as far as is reasonably practicable, so that other persons present in the place of work while work is in progress are not exposed to risks to their safety, health or welfare. This would apply, for instance, to visitors or delivery people entering a business and recognises that the employer is the person in control.

There is now a far greater recognition of the problems caused to workers by stress, violence and bullying at work. Guidelines and codes of practice have been published on these issues, which need to be recognised in our legislation. In line with a corresponding duty on employers in section 8, an employee must not engage in improper conduct or other behaviour that could endanger his or her safety, health and welfare at work or that of another person.

Section 14, which applies to any person, specifies that no person should intentionally, recklessly or without good cause interfere with, misuse or damage any thing provided to protect the safety, health and welfare of persons at work. This means not interfering with safety signs or safety devices. The section also provides that no person shall place at risk the safety, health or welfare of persons in connection with work activities.

Under Section 15, a landlord who controls premises used as a place of work must ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the place of work, access and egress and any article or substance present is safe and without risk to health.

Section 16 places duties on any person who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any article or substance used at work to ensure that, as far as is reasonably practicable, it can be used safely and without risk to health at work. It must also comply with any relevant legislation that implements a directive of the European Union and be properly tested and examined to meet these requirements.

Section 17 applies to the construction industry and sets out duties to be complied with by persons who commission, procure, design or construct places of work. They must appoint a competent person or persons to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the place of work is designed and is capable of being constructed not to present risk to safety and health; that it can be maintained without risk to safety and health when in use and that it complies with health and safety laws. There are already regulations in place implementing an EU directive on safety in construction and these regulations will be updated to ensure they measure up to the Bill.

Part 3 focuses on prevention, which is critical to the reduction of accidents and illnesses at work and to ensuring safety, health and welfare of work. Section 18, in support of section 8, requires the employer to appoint one or more competent persons to enable him or her to comply with health and safety laws. In a low-risk working environment, the employer may be capable of dealing with risks to workers and this is permitted. In any other case, a person competent in safety and health must be appointed. This, depending on the complexity of the risks, should preferably be a trained specialist recruited to the company or an employee who has been trained. It can also be an outside competent consultant. This is in line with the requirements of the EU Framework Directive 89/391.

The employer must also ensure co-operation between competent persons and with any safety representatives appointed. The employer must provide the competent person with information on factors that affect the safety, health and welfare of the employees, the risks involved, and the protective measures in place.

To prevent accidents and ill-health at work it is essential to identify the hazards in the workplace. The most common hazards include dusts and fumes, noise and vibrations, electricity, manual handling of loads, transport hazards, machinery, falls from heights, dangerous substances, fire, explosives, radiation and poor maintenance of the working environment.

It is also necessary to assess the level of risk presented by the hazard. Some hazards may be controlled while others may present a risk. Where there is a risk, protective measures must be identified and implemented. The necessary resources must be committed. There is by now a great deal of guidance available on workplace hazards, the risks they present and how to protect against them. There are also detailed regulations applying to the most serious and common forms of hazard.

Section 19 provides that every employer and every person controlling a workplace must identify the hazards at the place of work, assess the risks from those hazards and have a written risk assessment of them as they apply to employees, including any single employee and group of employees who may be exposed. In carrying out the risk assessment the employer must take account of health and safety laws that apply. The employer must implement any improvements in safety, health and welfare arising from the risk assessment.

Section 20 provides that every employer must have a written safety statement based on the hazards identified and the risk assessment carried out under section 19 setting out how the safety, health and welfare of employees will be secured and managed. I have already referred to safety statements in the context of small businesses and the farming sector.

Safety statements must set out the hazards identified, the risks assessed, the protective and preventive measures and the resources allocated to safety, health and welfare. They must also include details on the duties of employees as regards safety and health, the names and job titles of persons assigned tasks under the safety statement and the arrangements for the appointment of safety representatives and safety consultation in the place of work in compliance with sections 25 and 26. The names of the safety representatives and those on the safety committee, if appointed, must be included.

The risk assessment and the safety statement must be brought to the attention of employees at least annually, or when amended, and to others at the place of work exposed to specific risk. Where specific jobs pose serious risk the employer must give relevant extracts of the safety statement to the employees affected covering the risk, the risk assessment and the safety measures taken. The risk assessment and the safety statement must be reviewed and amended if necessary at least annually. This is an important addition to the current requirements under the 1989 Act.

I look to large companies and public sector bodies to set an example by checking that service providers have safety statements. Under the good neighbour principle, and as large employers are better resourced, they can often help and advise on what may be required. Section 20 also provides that employers in employment sectors, which will be detailed in regulations, who contract for services to be provided by another employer, must ensure that that employer has an up to date safety statement.

Surveys undertaken by the Health and Safety Authority in 2003 reveal that while 90% of companies employing more than 50 persons had a safety statement, this falls to 56% in companies employing up to 50 persons. The safety statement is the essential management tool for managing safety and health at work.

In the complex world in which we live now, our safety can depend on those who carry out tasks that can affect many people if matters go wrong. Examples include tower crane drivers on building sites, public service vehicle drivers, drivers of dangerous goods vehicles or those who operate process plant in the chemical industry and many others.

Section 23 gives the right to the employer, subject to the making of the regulations which will name the types of employment concerned and under what circumstances, to require employees to be assessed by a registered medical practitioner as to fitness to carry out work that presents critical risks to the safety, health and welfare of persons at work. If the registered medical practitioner is of the view that an employee is unfit to perform such work, he or she must tell the employer and the employee, giving the reasons for it and the likelihood of early resumption to facilitate rehabilitation. There will be consultation on any regulations that may be introduced under this heading.

If an employee covered by this section suffers any disease or illness likely to add to risks, he or she must immediately tell the employer. If either the registered medical practitioner or the employee informs the employer, the employer must take action to comply with the general duties under section 8 as regards a safe place of work.

With the level of knowledge that now exists on safety matters, there is a basis for encouraging greater partnership between employers and unions to come together to set safety standards in particular employment sectors to support the legislative provisions. We also need a basis to give recognition to the agreements being reached under the European Union social dialogue arrangements, which are tackling such issues as teleworking and stress at work.

Section 24 provides that trade unions and bodies representing employers can make agreements setting out practical guidance on safety, health and welfare, and the requirements of health and safety laws, and can apply to the authority for approval of an agreement or of its variation. The authority can approve a joint safety and health agreement if the agreement stipulates that it applies to all employees in a particular class of employees. The parties must make copies of agreements available for inspection by any person affected. This a novel feature of the Bill and I look forward to seeing how the social partners will work it.

In assessing compliance with health and safety laws, the authority must take account of an approved joint safety and health agreement, whether or not an employer in an employment sector covered by the agreement is a party to it. Consultation on safety and health between workers and their employer is critical to the prevention of accidents. In addition to their personal interest in their own well-being, workers have an intimate knowledge of the conditions in which they work and the wise employer will take note of and learn from their experience. The concept of the worker safety representative was introduced in earlier legislation. I commend the many individuals who volunteered and underwent training to act as safety representatives. The trade union and employer bodies have provided extensive training.

Surveys by the Health and Safety Authority in 2003 showed that in 74% of companies employing 50 or more persons, workers had appointed safety representatives but in companies employing up to 50 workers this fell to 15%. Despite all efforts I believe that safety representatives need additional support in their challenging role. Section 25, therefore, is devoted solely to them. It contains some additional supports and I have included others in later sections. I encourage the representative bodies to match these initiatives by providing support services for safety representatives.

Section 25 entitles employees to decide on a safety representative, or more than one, if the employer agrees, to represent them in consultations with the employer on matters of safety, health and welfare. The safety representative has the right to inspect the place of work having given reasonable notice to the employer. The employer must be reasonable as to the frequency of inspections. The safety representative can inspect immediately if there is an accident, dangerous occurrence or imminent danger or risk to safety, health and welfare. The safety representative may also investigate accidents and dangerous occurrences provided this does not interfere with another person carrying out duties under health and safety laws.

Providing for broader consultation between workers and their employer, section 26 places a duty on the employer to consult the employees so as to make and maintain arrangements to enable the employer and employees to co-operate to promote and develop safety, health and welfare and to monitor, the effectiveness of those arrangements. As part of the arrangements, the employer must consult the employees and their safety representatives on any measure likely to substantially affect safety, health and welfare. The employer must also consult on the designation of employees having emergency duties under section 11; actions taken relating to protection from and prevention of risks; the hazard identification and risk assessment under section 19; the preparation of the safety statement under section 20; the information required to be given to employees under section 9; information on accidents and dangerous occurrences notified under section 8; the appointment of competent persons under section 18; the planning and organisation of training under section 10; the planning and introduction of new technologies and the implications for safety, health and welfare of choices available as regards equipment, working conditions and the working environment. As a corollary, employees have a right to make representations to and consult their employer on matters of safety, health and welfare.

A system of safety committees in factories was provided for under the Safety in Industry Act 1980 and many such committees continue to work effectively. I am very happy to respond to the desire of employer and union bodies to give recognition in the Bill to safety committees across all employment. They could operate effectively in other sectors, including, perhaps, in the health care sector and in shops and offices. If therefore a safety committee is agreed in the undertaking, which can meet the requirements I outlined, the safety committee can be used to meet the consultation requirements under this section. The organisational arrangements for safety committees are set out in Schedule 4.

It is timely to send a strong signal that employees should not be penalised for acting in good faith in the interests of safety and health. Section 27 prohibits an employer from penalising an employee for acting in accordance with or performing any duty or exercising any right under health and safety laws, or making a complaint or a representation about health and safety to the safety representative or to the employer or to an inspector.

The Minister of State's time has concluded but if the House is agreeable, in view of the fact that it is the Minister of State's first opportunity to address the House as Minister of State, I can allow the Minister of State to continue. Is that agreed?

As his Clare colleague, I would be delighted.

I am surprised he was given so much to do.

The Bill provides the framework for prevention for the next two decades. It contains the elements of a strategy to which all the stakeholders in occupational safety and health should contribute to improve the national record. In addition to its enforcement role, the Health and Safety Authority, acting at the centre, needs to stimulate and orchestrate the way forward, working with all of the stake holders. The authority needs to co-ordinate the provision of national occupational health and safety advice and support services through a combination of either direct delivery, or delivery through and with others and endorsing the work of others.

This will open the door to voluntary compliance programmes and greater ownership of the system. Companies need to be more aware of the implications of their safety and health record for communications and reputation management. Companies developing corporate social responsibility will be conscious of the impact workplace performance indicators will make on such issues as absenteeism through accidents and ill health; the numbers of health and safety complaints made; the level of compliance with health and safety laws; and the value of inputs through training and development for staff.

The so-called new risks need special attention, including those arising from work-induced psycho-social problems in the workplace. Above all, it will be critical to re-energise and retain the confidence of the principal stake holders, the employees in Irish workplaces. This Bill may be regarded as the launch pad of renewed efforts by all concerned that we have an occupational health and safety system which is second to none. I commend the Bill to the House.

I congratulate Deputy Killeen on his appointment as Minister of State and wish him well. I am sorry he was given such difficult work to do on his first day. This is an important and detailed Bill and will probably prove to be complex on Committee Stage. It comes against the backdrop of the Health and Safety Authority's report, which shows that in 2002, 61 people lost their lives in workplace accidents and almost 8,000 workplace injuries resulted in a loss of four or more working days. There was a stunning 13,000 claims for occupational benefit. When it is considered that one third of days lost arise from issues relating to health and safety, it is crucial for employers and employees alike that a good system of safety is put in place.

Fine Gael recognises that this Bill is an honest attempt to deal with the dreadful set of figures I have outlined, which although improving in recent years, remain far too high. There is much to be said for this Bill; nobody is against safety, health and welfare. My party will gladly support this Bill on Second Stage with a view to a thorough debate on Committee Stage, which is needed because many of the provisions may have the opposite effect to the improvement of safety and welfare in the workplace.

This Bill updates the 1989 Act. Fine Gael and the other political parties in this House, as well as IBEC, SIPTU, ICTU and all those involved in industrial relations, recognise the appropriateness of the Bill. Ireland's industrial landscape has changed beyond recognition, the number at work has multiplied and new technology has revolutionised workplace practices. Where once Ireland exported workers, now it is the beneficiary of net immigration. The construction and chemical industries are booming and an updated code of practice is required to prevent injury and death which continue to blight Ireland Incorporated.

The 1989 Act was a workable and practical framework that has been relatively successful in its aim. It injected a culture of safety and compliance that was badly needed, especially in the 1990s when the economy began to grow. An unregulated industrial sector could have been a disaster for workers, business and Ireland's economic reputation.

The Government is in danger of being too prescriptive and inflexible in its rush to tighten areas that need to be tightened. It may be replacing a framework for safety with a strict set of rules which are difficult to adhere to and easy to break. Juxtaposed with those rules is an absence of any policing strategy to ensure these rules are not bent or broken, together with total silence on the issue of funding. There is no point in having legislation and a strategy unless the back-up resources are available for enforcement.

I ask the Minister of State to inform the House of the exact amount in extra resources which will be given to the Health and Safety Authority in order to implement this legislation. I ask him to avoid statements of intent because as can be seen in the recent case of his colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, aspirations must equate with nothing, in the view of the Government.

That is an unfair comparison.

SIPTU has expressed its concerns in this area. If the new legislation is to have any chance of success in achieving its aim of reducing workplace injuries and deaths, the Health and Safety Authority needs to be properly funded. The number of inspectors and inspections carried out under the 1989 Act is nowhere near what is required to ensure a safer workplace.

Instead of an improvement in the resources the authority requires to carry out its function, there has been a steady reduction in inspections. In the construction industry, out of a target of 8,000 building sites due for annual inspection by the HSA, the figure has been reduced to 4,500. As a result of an increased number of inspectors pursuing cases through the courts, due to pressure from the trade unions, their presence on building sites has declined. This situation is not satisfactory. There is real concern that the benefits of this Bill will not be felt because lack of enforcement will mean that it will not be heeded.

I do not intend to speak on all the details of the Bill's provisions as the Minister of State did in his contribution. There is much to be welcomed in the Bill but much to be ironed out also. I will draw some cases to the attention of the Minister of State. An example of the overly prescriptive nature of the Bill is evident in section 18(4):

Where there is a competent person in the employer's employment, that person shall be appointed for the purposes of this section in preference to a competent person who is not in his employment.

This is a mistake, which may be deliberate or an oversight. One must wonder at the reason the Government has decided to interfere in the internal human resources process in companies up and down the land. The Bill will not placate the social partners on the issue of checking employees for evidence of intoxication while handling dangerous machinery. This is an issue of civil liberty. Fine Gael does not contend this argument should take precedence over the need for safety. There is a need to give adequate assurances to workers. It appears no such assurances have been sought or given. This leads me to the conclusion that despite the length of time it has taken to bring the Bill to the House there has been a very low level of consultation with employers and trade unions.

The number of representations I have received, as spokesman for Fine Gael — I am sure it is the same story for my colleagues — leads me to believe there has been a low level of partnership on the issue. No Bill, no matter what the content, can succeed without the presence of goodwill on the part of those affected. It could not have been hard to avoid the media briefings or the spin or counter-spin from various groups if the Department had simply taken on board the views, concerns and expertise of those in the workplace.

I draw to the attention of the Minister of State a few sections of the Bill. Section 8 sets out the general duties of employers with the overriding duty of ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees. Employers are, therefore, obliged to exercise all due care by putting in place the necessary protective and preventative measure, having identified the hazards and assessed the risks to health and safety. However, an employer does not have to put in place measures that are grossly disproportionate having regard to the unusual unforeseeable and exceptional nature of any circumstance or occurrence that may result in an injury or accident at work. That is entirely fair and reasonable. What is not entirely fair and reasonable is this that if an employment obtains staff through an agency, the employer must specify the occupational qualifications necessary for the position as well as the specific features for which the employee is required. However, the employer is also obliged to ensure that the agency provides this information to the temporary employee. If an employer retains an agency to recruit temporary staff, it is arguably unreasonable for an employer to ensure the agency carries out its statutory duties under the provisions of the Bill. Why is the employer to be held liable for a third party?

The way in which section 10 has been drafted is almost meaningless. It provides that instruction, training and supervision is to be given to staff and that the employer must take account of the employees' capabilities in relation to health, safety and welfare. What exactly does that mean? Is an employee to be permitted to refuse to work simply because he or she claims it is detrimental to his or her welfare?

Those who are cheering for the Bill, and there are many good reasons to do so, might consider the onus it implies on business. We have no objection to the Bill in principle. Safety is costly and businesses must pay their fair share. Has the Government calculated what is that fair share? I appreciate there are some profitable largescale industrial players who could and should be made to observe these paths. In his contribution the Minister of State noted that 74% of all companies who employ 50 or more employees have safety standards in place and safety in the workplace statements are already drawn up under the old legislation. We are in danger of imposing unnecessary and restrictive regulations on small businesses which are already complaining of being regulated into the ground. Yesterday the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland launched a blistering attack on the Government given the way in which small and medium-size enterprises have been abandoned by the Government in regard to the funding of local authorities. If it is priming itself for another fight with small businesses on this issue I advise against it. Ultimately, the law would be better if proper consultation was engaged in and consensus reached. For that reason, I advise the Minister of State to listen carefully to what the social partners have to say on the Bill and to reflect their views on Committee Stage.

I am concerned that some of the provisions of the Bill impose needless rules. It has been brought to my attention that the Bill may compel employers to display improvement notices on every vehicle it owns while impeding the implementation of certain safety measures, such as section 26, which provides that employers must consult employees on such measures. To be blunt, if something is not safe consultation appears to be a recipe for dither and delay.

The Bill concerns the area of health and safety. I wish to raise some serious concerns expressed to me about health and safety, specifically in the construction industry. I understand that serious concerns have been expressed by the trade union movement, local authorities and the Health and Safety Authority about the quality of trainers and assessors approved by FÁS which provides courses for the construction skills certification scheme. A number of people have been killed during the past five years — 90 in total — and a significant number of these related to those operating in the construction industry.

The construction skills certification course has been developed by FÁS to promote the delivery of training, to raise standards of health and safety and to reduce the risks of accidents throughout the industry. By approving trainers and assessors, FÁS acts as a guarantor of quality of services delivered in this area. I have reason to believe that in a number of instances the rigour one would expect FÁS to apply in approving trainers or assessors has not been up to scratch. For example, I understand a company was approved by FÁS to provide training and assessment even though it had been suspended from a similar scheme operated by its counterparts in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The development of the construction skills certification scheme has created a market for training in health and safety that is worth many millions of euro. Unless FÁS applies the most rigorous tests to those whom it approves there is a real danger that unscrupulous operators, who see the opportunity to make a quick buck, will move into this market. I ask the Minister of State to investigate and consider this issue and to respond at the conclusion of Second Stage.

We are not discussing some academic exercise in approving trainers but we are talking about an issue that could have many implications, including death. The last thing we want is that invalidated certificates are given to people to operate machinery, scaffolding equipment and all the other important issues relating to safety on construction sites without the proper training. If rogue trainers and assessors are allowed loose on a market, lives may be put at risk. I call on the Minister of State to insist on the highest standards being applied by all trainers and to do all in his power to ensure those who are not qualified and do not possess the necessary skills are not approved as trainers or assessors. I look forward to his reply on this issue.

The issue of health and safety is like many issues in that there are rights and responsibilities. In this Bill the rules applying to health and safety are being made more prescriptive. There is a responsibility to ensure that proper policing and proper funding is provided to the Health and Safety Authority to ensure the Bill is effective. The issue of safety should not be scattered around various sectors of the economy and various Departments. Issues of safety should be housed under the one roof, in a one-stop-shop fashion. In this context I ask the Minister of State to look at rail safety, maritime safety, road safety and industrial workplace safety with a view to putting them under one authority, such as the Health and Safety Authority. This would ensure that the cross-cutting issues that arise in working life, whether in agriculture, industry, the marine, rail or public safety would be dealt with exhaustively and constructively by the one organisation and that each sector would know what the other was doing.

The same should apply in regard to regulation. There is a plethora of regulators across all facets of life and, unfortunately, one does not know what the other is doing. An effort should be made to have a proper competition and regulatory authority rather than a plethora of agencies that are empire building around the city to justify their existence, to the detriment of consumers and business.

In the context of safety, one agency, properly funded and resourced, could provide the necessary policing and effective strategy to implement the Bill. Employers and employees must take responsibility for ensuring they have proper health and safety issues worked out in partnership in the workplace. In so far as that goes, Fine Gael will support the Bill on Second Stage but shall discuss amendments with the Minister of State on Committee Stage.

Like my Fine Gael colleague, I welcome the appointment of the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen. I had the honour and pleasure of working with him on committees and I am aware of his ability. His promotion is long overdue and I am delighted to see it. I join Deputy Hogan in lamenting the dryness of his first speech. I know it is a technical area, but we did not need to have every detail spelled out since we have had an opportunity to read the Bill and the explanatory memorandum and we have received representations. I am sure future presentations and interactions will be of a livelier nature.

I thank Deputy Hogan and acknowledge his cultural appreciation in making a shorter than usual Second Stage speech to facilitate my departure to the most important cultural event of the year, namely, the opening of Wexford Festival Opera this evening, for which I am grateful.

This Bill has been a long time coming. Deputy Hogan, I and others have discussed the issue with the Tánaiste, then the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, in committee and at question time in recent years in an effort to ensure that workplaces are as safe as is humanly possible. An old adage states that accidents will always happen, but it is also the case that accidents are caused and it is our obligation to set the legislative framework to ensure that we make the workplace as safe for citizens as much as is practicable.

I welcome the Minister of State's comment that we have a responsibility to be advocates for the legislation so that people are aware of it, not only in terms of putting it on the Statute Book, but to encourage people think safety. Enforcement, laws and notices are only part of the solution. If people are aware that employers and employees alike have a moral responsibility to take safety issues seriously, we could avoid some of the horrendous tragedies we have seen in a variety of workplaces such as farms, construction sites and factories.

This is an important Bill because it develops the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act 1989, to which important groundbreaking Bill the Minister of State referred in his speech as well as the work undertaken in preparation for it by Mr. Justice Barrington. The 1989 Act itself repealed all the previous health and safety legislation going back to 1882. That was right and proper because we could not operate in the 21st century with legislation grounded in Victorian values and views of the workplace. It is unfortunate that, while a repealing section was provided in the 1989 Act, it was not brought into operation. We now have an anomaly in that an Act of the Oireachtas states that the Victorian legislation is repealed although, in fact, it remains in force.

That issue is replicated in the legislation before us today and I ask the Minister of State to examine it to ensure that we know where we stand and that those charged with the fairly onerous responsibilities under the Bill are clear on what applies to them.

Like Deputy Hogan, I refer to resourcing of the Health and Safety Authority. At present, the sanctioned staffing level of the HSA is 164 people. Some 100 of these are inspectors who work on a variety of projects including inspection, enforcement, policy development, drafting codes of practice, EU liaison and prosecuting cases. I am anxious to hear it directly from the Minister of State, but I understand that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has instructed the authority to reduce the staffing level by five people by the end of 2005. That would be an extraordinary situation, if it were true, in the context of the new legislation and the laudatory comments of the Minister of State who front-loaded the issue of safety as a priority of his portfolio.

In 1998, a study by a Finnish institute of occupational health found that Ireland had one of the lowest ratios of workplace inspectors per 100,000 workers in Europe. For instance, Ireland had 5.5 inspectors per 100,000 workers, whereas Britain had 9.3 and Sweden had 14 per 100,000. As the Minister of State acknowledged in his speech, the growth in employment since 1994 has not been matched with a corresponding growth in resources to the Health and Safety Authority. This must happen if we are serious about ensuring that we at least stand still in regard to our overview of safety and regulation in the workplace since the workforce has now expanded to the 1.9 million people the Minister of State instanced.

In addition, given the changing nature of the Irish workplace, the workload of the authority has not only increased but has changed significantly in the intervening period. For instance, the authority has been actively involved in a range of areas recently, despite having the same staff level, such as the establishment of the anti-bullying unit. Bullying in the workplace is a real issue which will be an important part of the Minister of State's remit. The authority has also been involved in the REACH programme — the new EU chemicals strategy — as well as the important banning of smoking in the workplace introduced in March. It has been involved in the abatement of noise in the entertainment industry, land use planning — some 285 cases of which were processed last year — and the new area of addressing the needs of migrant workers from different cultures coming into this society. All these areas have greatly expanded the role and demands placed on the HSA without additional resources.

At the same time as these new areas and activities were expanding, the more traditional aspects of its work were already expanding and there to be met. During the course of 2003, we saw 10,700 workplace inspections, from which some 76 prosecutions were completed, 91% of which were successful, with an increasing number now being taken on indictment to the higher courts. Such is the seriousness with which the State regards such matters now.

A recent report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee on the operation of the Health and Safety Executive, which is the UK equivalent of the Health and Safety Authority, recognised the direct link between increased enforcement resources and improved outcomes in terms of health and safety in the workplace. I do not suppose one needs a particular review to know that, but it is available. The British equivalent clearly shows that the more one resources the HSA, the better are the safety outcomes. That committee recommended that the number of inspectors in the health and safety executive in the UK be increased due to the expanding nature of its workforce, the changing nature of the workplace and, ironically, the advent of new legislation on health and safety in the UK. Surely that truism is right for us if it is right for the UK. I want to hear from the Minister of State how these matters are to be addressed and what specific resources are to be provided in future to the HSA.

I also want to deal with the issue of public safety in general. I think it was yesterday when Deputy Gay Mitchell asked about the O'Hare report. I have the Tánaiste's published statement on 29 December 2000. It therefore surprised me yesterday when the Tánaiste was answering questions that she did not know about the O'Hare report, since she launched it herself in December 2000. I am sure it was a momentary lapse. When the interdepartmental agency review group on public safety, chaired by Dr. Danny O'Hare, president emeritus of DCU, published its report at the end of 2000, it was done with considerable fanfare. There were great expectations regarding what was to be done. A range of issues dealt with, such as fairground safety, public sporting and entertainment events, open-air markets, safety and adventure centres and other issues, were not under the remit of the HSA. Sometimes they fall under the ambit of local authorities, sometimes they do not. It is clear that they lack any overarching safety council that will ensure that the highest standards of safety are maintained for these sorts of activities. A number of statutory bodies seem to have some limited responsibility and often overlapping responsibility in the area. The O'Hare report recommended that there should be specific responsibility to an overarching authority. That is what we need to address now.

Announcing the publication of the report in 2000, the Tánaiste said:

The question of public safety has arisen in various contexts over the years. Last year I considered that it was in the public interest to examine our current approach to public safety. I look forward to examining the group's conclusions and recommendations and discussing them with my Government colleagues.

She obviously did not discuss them all that vigorously because she could not remember even launching the report during the week. I hope that the enthusiasm she expressed for an overarching authority in 2000 has not dissipated entirely from the Department. However, I am a little concerned as I have the answer to a parliamentary question tabled by my Fine Gael colleague, Deputy Crawford, to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which was one of the first parliamentary questions responded to by the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen. His response on establishing an office of public safety is as follows:

One of the recommendations contained in the report on public safety in Ireland, which was published in the year 2000, was that an Office of Public Safety Regulation should be considered. While that office would not be responsible for public safety issues, it was envisaged that it would have some form of overseeing role of all agencies and bodies involved.

The Minister of State went on to say:

It should be noted that the group was not in full agreement on this recommendation due to issues relating to duplication of existing services and additional costs. Some members of the review group expressed reservations about the need for such an office and the extra burden on State finances.

Reading between the lines, that strikes me as a dead duck. I am not sure that the Minister of State had a chance to read the report before sanctioning that response, but I invite him to revisit this issue. We are one step away from its becoming a major issue. Once there is a public safety crisis somewhere, the Minister of State will be back in the Chamber, people will be regurgitating that report and we will really need to have such an overarching role given to someone. I believe the proper place for that is the HSA. Will the Minister of State revisit it to shake off the lethargy in the Department that the parliamentary response to Deputy Crawford's question indicates and to progress this issue?

I wish to refer to a number of other issues. These are the specifics of the Bill. I do not intend to go through every section because we will spend some time on this legislation on Committee Stage and we will have a chance to go through the minutiae of it. I want to deal with a few issues now that the Minister of State might have a chance to reflect upon and approach with an open mind. The first issue is the blanket exemption for the Defence Forces to safety regulation. That is a mistake. Obviously, the Defence Forces are in a unique position and we need to provide specifically for operational matters. Bluntly put, if we are going to war, I do not think the normal health and safety regulations will apply. However, we can specify operational matters. We can get what is required so that we can have an efficient Defence Forces that can do its job without having a blanket exemption which will result in our having another deafness case or some other problem. Normal workplace provisions do not apply, yet they should with the exception of operational matters that can be excluded. We can work out a suitable amendment that would address that difficulty.

Another issue upon which I want the Minister of State to reflect is the statutory right of all employers in this Bill to drug test all employees. That is a large new legislative right. There are civil liberty issues involved that we need to address and on which we need to find a balance. I have spoken to the trade union movement on this and it has its own serious concerns. There should be a flexibility on these matters so that there are local agreements at workplace level depending on the nature of the employment. A different set of responsibilities would obviously fall on an airline pilot than on some clerical officer who would not have the same responsibility for the safety of any other individual. There are different levels of responsibility required. My judgment call is that rather than have a blanket provision of the broad nature envisaged in the legislation, there should be a facility to negotiate at local employment level between employees and employers, a reasonable balance that will ensure optimum safety without trespassing on the rights of individuals. The Minister of State has good antennae for the public mood. There is a view that the State wants to regulate us into automatons. That is all for the good, but for the good nanny. It does not allow any flexibility reside with individuals being responsible for themselves. We should have some acceptance that people have to be responsible for themselves and that the State should not have the right to interfere with the individual to the extent that it oversteps the mark. I invite the Minister of State to open his mind to it between now and Committee Stage.

I also want to raise the issue of non-national employees. A great number of people, whom I welcome, from a broad range of cultures, traditions and languages, are coming to work in Ireland. That is a positive development. They are enriching not only our economy but our culture, pluralism and understanding of different societies.

On the narrow issue of health and safety, it is important that people, whose first language might not be English, understand the health and safety statements, the provisions of the legislation and the measures put in place for their protection. Specifically, I would like to see an obligation on employers to ensure that people whose first language is not English have the opportunity to have it explained to them in a way that they can digest and understand. That is not explicit enough in the Bill.

Although this point is slightly extraneous to this enactment, I had long discussions with the Tánaiste, when she was the Minister responsible for these areas, on the way work permits are issued. I am strongly of the view, and thought the Tánaiste was equally of the view, that a work permit should apply to the individual worker and not to the employer. We have had instances of captive employees not being able to move from inadequate, unsatisfactory work conditions and feeling that if they did not endure what are unacceptable conditions they would be deported from this State. I make this point as an aside as I was referring to non-national employees. We should quickly revisit the legislation on work permits to enable a work permit to accrue to the individual employee and not to the employer so that an employee would have the right to move to a different employer should the one who applied for the work permit prove to be unsatisfactory.

We talked at some length during various parliamentary questions to the Minister on the issue of establishing the crime of corporate manslaughter. The Labour Party produced a Private Members' Bill on this matter some time ago. The Minister of State will be aware that the Law Reform Commission examined it and reported in a consultation paper recommending that there be a crime of corporate manslaughter. That was not a conclusion but rather a consultation paper. The responses I got subsequent to that from the Department were that it is waiting for a conclusion rather than accepting the consultation paper as a definitive view of the Law Reform Commission.

I am aware that a new offence will be created in this enactment, that of causing personal injury, including death, through contravening this legislation. I welcome that. However, the maximum period of imprisonment provided on conviction for that crime is two years. It seems disproportionate that the penalty for causing an injury, including death, by contravening health and safety legislation is in the order of two years. We need to value life and bodily integrity at a higher level than that. I hope the Minister will be open to consider inputting into this legislation a separate crime of corporate manslaughter that will underscore that a corporate body has a responsibility and cannot simply walk away when employees die due to sheer negligence. We will explore these matters in more detail in committee.

I wish to raise the rights of worker safety representatives. Their position has been enhanced by this legislation and they can vindicate their position and rights through recourse to a rights commissioner, if necessary. However, I understand that the trade union movement has sought to have the denial of a right to a safety representative made a scheduled offence in this enactment. That was not acceded to by the negotiators from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I have not heard the reasoning for that. The Minister of State might explain the reason the requirement of the trade union movement to have the denial of the right to a safety representative made an offence was not acceded to.

I wish to raise the new board's representation on foot of representations I received from the trade union movement on its structure in terms of who should be represented on it and how they are to be represented. In an early draft of the Bill, presented to IBEC and congress, nominations to the board from each of those bodies fluctuated between two or three. The final published version maintained three from each and increased the number of nominees from the independent sector to outnumber them. I would be interested to hear the Minister of State's view on the optimum number and how it is proposed they should be selected to ensure the board is representative of society as a whole and has the best people to ensure the legislation that we are enacting is best put in place.

This important legislation has been a long time coming. I welcome it and look forward to a detailed discussion on it in committee. I return to my opening comment regarding resources. We often rest on our laurels and see ourselves as legislators only and that on passing legislation our duty is done. This legislation will be useless unless we adequately resource the HSA to do the work we want it to do in the changing, expanding workplace that is Ireland, welcome as that is. We must ensure that workers, domestic and those we entice to work in our economy, work in the safest conditions we can put in place and that everybody understands their responsibility and, more so, that everybody understands there is an authority with an inspectorate, with the teeth and capacity to ensure that the highest standards are enforced as well as enacted.

I welcome the Minister of State and wish him the best of good luck and fortune in his new job.

The Green Party supports the intent of this extensive Bill that comes on the back of earlier legislation, the 1989 Act, which has been of major significance to the economic and social welfare of the country. It is important first and foremost to recognise that.

I take on board Deputy Hogan's comments and am supportive of them. We must be careful as legislators not to choke the spirit of enterprise which is important to foster and develop, particularly enterprise within smaller Irish companies which face major difficulties. I have had the experience of being a small businessman. It is not easy when one comes into work on a Monday morning and knows that one has to do a VAT return that should have been done the previous Friday afternoon, and there are also all the various forms that one is required to complete. From my experience of running a small bicycle shop, the health and safety legislation enacted in 1989 worked in that it was a real and effective force for good by simply forcing me as a small business person to ask myself whether I had a safety statement.

That in itself had considerable positive consequences in that it forced me to create such a statement. It was correct for me to do this, not just because it fulfilled the legislative requirements, but because it was the right thing to do for the business. The business was fairly simple. One does not get much easier than fixing bikes, yet we had a blowtorch and grinder in the shop and we were lifting things and dealing with chemicals. One should work with oil on one's hands all day and see what the hands are like after a year.

The 1989 legislation required the three or four of us who worked in the shop to sit down to talk about safety and identify the relevant issues. This had a very positive effect and made us better organised and more effective in our business. It probably meant that we invested a certain amount in proper frames, on which we carried the bikes, and in proper gloves and fire equipment. My experience in business is very limited, as one does not get much smaller than fixing punctures on a wet Monday, yet I noted that the requirement to meet the safety requirements had a very beneficial effect. To the extent that this Bill is carrying on that tradition and improving the legislative record, I very much welcome it.

It is remarkable to note the economic consequences of such legislative changes in statistical terms. The Minister of State said there were 21,000 strike days in 2002, while ten times this number of days were lost through illness. If we as legislators can effect economic improvements and reduce the level of absence from work through injury, the State's investment in its legislators and the Civil Service will result in a good monetary return to the people of the State.

I have some concerns about the Bill. It is difficult for my party to amend the Bill considering that it will not have access to Committee Stage but I hope most of my amendments will be dealt with on Report Stage. I echo some of the concerns raised by the two previous speakers. The first, which the Minister of State regarded as one of the most controversial aspects of the Bill, relates to possible random testing of employees for drugs or alcohol. Two different views have already been expressed on this on this side of the House, but I agree with that of Deputy Howlin. I have very serious concerns about the State assigning to employers such a broad and sweeping right as that to randomly test employees. It is a legislative step too far and I caution the Minister on making such a dramatic change to the relationships between the State and employers and between employers and employees.

The Minister of State said that the details on random testing will be set by regulation. I take it he is not seeking the application of random testing to every administrative clerk in every single office in the country, as referred to by Deputy Howlin. However, the measure is so significant that if the Minister of State is proposing to restrict or limit the power to engage in random testing, it is better that he do so in the legislation rather than in any further regulations. This would at least allow legislators to assess the merits of random testing.

If one allowed for random testing of people involved in shipping, aeroplane maintenance or flying, for example, there might be support for such a proposal considering that mistakes made by such employees due to their being incapacitated can have dire consequences. However, I do not and would not support the inclusion in the Bill of the broad legal possibility of a sweeping change resulting in random testing without its being qualified further at this stage. If we are to do so, we should specify in the Bill where exactly we intend such powers to apply.

In light of my example based on my experience as a small employer, I worry about the way in which the random testing of employees by employers would change the relationships in the workplace. I worry that we are not outlining in sufficient detail how such a power would apply and what sanctions would apply to its use. This is my fundamental concern about the way in which this legislation has been drafted.

My second concern relates to an area of health and safety which the Minister of State has recognised in his speech but which is not being addressed properly and fully in the Bill, namely, stress in or arising from the workplace. I asked a well-known occupational health practitioner about his experiences in a Dublin city centre clinic and he said he deals with stress cases every day. I do not know whether different circumstances obtain in other parts of the country. He also deals with broken bones and other complaints but 90% of his business is stress-related and involves patients who are working too hard, under too much pressure or are unable to cope with the demands being put on them. They are presenting with other symptoms and conditions but the reality, according to the practitioner, is that they are simply working too hard in stressful conditions. His advice to them is often to take two weeks off work to reduce the pressure under which they are putting themselves.

It was interesting to consider the statistics cited by the Minister. Some 34% of injuries are due to handling, lifting and carrying, and 26% are due to slips, trips and falls. This is a subjective area and it is hard to quantify specifically, but I believe a detailed analysis would show that a large percentage of lost days, lost productivity and real health and safety problems are attributable to the fact that we are working too hard and thereby becoming stressed. We are missing the opportunity to address this in much more detail throughout the Bill. We are not giving legislative effect to the type of prescriptions that the occupational doctor to whom I spoke is dispensing most of the time, namely, breaks from work, shorter hours and a better balance between family and working life. It is difficult to legislate for this area and to be scientific about it, but it is the reality on the ground.

If one considered how our society and health and safety standards in the workplace have changed in the past 20 years, one would recognise that the increased working demands on ordinary office workers in a variety of different professions comprise one of the most significant changes. It is not necessarily a change for the better. There are certain professions in this city and elsewhere in which it is now expected that one must work a 12-hour day. People are going to work at 9 a.m. and feel that they are not doing their jobs properly and will not progress if they do not remain in their offices until 8 p.m. This has almost become a common work culture in certain professions. It is wrong and leads to people being burnt out and to a real drop in productivity. Although they might seem to be working hard and are seen to be in the office for many hours I question the work done in such circumstances.

As human beings, we do not function well in the long term under such stress. I look to the Minister of State to strengthen the legislative provisions on Committee and Report Stages in recognition of that fact. Employees should be able to refer to that condition in those working circumstances as a health and safety consideration, which needs to be addressed by the employer. Although the Minister referred to this in his speech, I cannot see in the Bill the detailed legislative proposals that address the concerns the Minister of State has raised.

Proper consultation is an important element in developing a positive working relationship between employers and employees. This is recognised in the Bill but I wish to refer back to my circumstances. One of the reasons the earlier health and safety legislation worked is that we tried to engage in proper consultation with the employees. That is where the benefit comes from, it allows an employee to discuss with an employer what everyday working conditions are like. That is not something that occurs every day in a small business where we tend to keep our heads down and work to certain targets, including producing products and getting orders out. Within the everyday working arrangements of business life, one does not have many opportunities to sit back and ask what the working day has been like for individual employees, how they function or what they feel about how the company is being run. To some extent, this health and safety legislation is an opportunity to push companies towards engaging in a consultation process they should be involved in anyway.

I remember being taught in college about what was known as McGregor's theories of X and Y. Theory X was that one has to brow-beat workers, pay them highly or threaten them with all sorts of punishments to get them to work effectively. Theory Y, which is the one I would subscribe to, is that people want to work, be part of an organisation and have flexibility, freedom and power of initiative. People's self-interest is in contributing positively to an organisation. In my experience, that is the correct and truer theory of how management should work and behave, particularly in an economy where we should be moving towards more high value-added jobs and involving people in a much more creative way in the working process. In that regard, we must trust employees and recognise that if they have difficulties with regard to health and safety issues, we must address them in the legislation. The legislation should be framed in that spirit. I reiterate the importance of the consultation process, which better reflects the nature of the economy and the workplace.

I agree with Deputy Howlin on the need for the Bill to be encompassing in applying to all nationalities and worker grades, including migrants on work permits, working in small businesses. Section 9 provides that the safety statement's information should be provided in a given format and in appropriate language that is reasonably likely to be understood by the employee. Deputy Howlin's point was that we need to specify that those on work permits have exactly the same rights as others, including being able to understand one's health and safety conditions.

Previous speakers raised the issue of enforcement. In my limited experience, having been two and a half years in the House, I have come across a number of cases where the level of enforcement does not meet the required standards. The proper legislation may be in place but it is of no use if it is not enforced. I have specific concerns where health and safety issues are falling between the cracks. One example concerns the Bellanaboy upstream pipeline planned in County Mayo, where there was a lack of clear understanding as to who had responsibility for the pipeline's safety aspects. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources supposedly had responsibility, while the Health and Safety Authority said it did not because the pipeline was outside the boundary of the particular facility. In that case, I felt the HSA needed to expand its remit and take responsibility for addressing the safety concerns that had been expressed. That is one example from the everyday work we do here where I considered we failed to address the real safety issues that were apparent in a particular industrial process. We had a narrow definition of where the health and safety issue belonged.

I could cite other issues. Concerns have come to my attention about the national car testing centres, where significant emissions are possibly being trapped in a narrow working environment. Enforcement officers were able to visit and monitor such centres, but it is unclear to me whether they had the legislative power to take action if they had such concerns. I have cited those two examples from my daily working life as a public representative because they involve people coming to me to express real concerns about those problems. To my mind, however, we are not currently able to carry out the role the State should be undertaking to protect employees in such circumstances.

I support the Bill in the hope that the new authority will strengthen its procedures and be more effective. I hope that resources will be made available to provide the health and safety protection we need. That will be of benefit not just to employees but also to the economy.

I intend to revert to these matters on Committee and Report Stages. I welcome the fact that the Minister has introduced the Bill and I look forward to more detailed debate on the remaining Stages.

Déanaim comhghairdeas le mo chara, an tAire Stáit nua, an Teachta Killeen. Everyone accepts that the commitment and contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, in the Chamber over the past few years have demonstrated that he is capable of fulfilling any portfolio with which he is entrusted. I congratulate him and wish him the best in his new role.

Deputy Eamon Ryan called upon his experience as an employer in discussing this issue. In the same way I will call on my experience, having been involved in industrial safety for many years, including a term as safety officer in what was probably the most hazardous plant in the country, Irish Steel in Haulbowline. I have been working in this area for a long time and particularly welcome any updating of legislation dealing with safety in the workplace. Any such changes that will make the workplace safer are to be welcomed.

I welcome the point made by the Minister of State that we have the best workplace safety record in the European Union. He said that fatalities cannot be tolerated and I agree with that sentiment. At times, however, we knock ourselves a bit too much. Recently, I heard a complaint from a developer who said that on building sites in Portugal they did not have to observe the same kind of regime that we have, including obligatory hard hats and other safety requirements. He made the point that we could not compete. I agree with the comments made by Deputy Eamon Ryan, particularly that there is a financial benefit in avoiding accidents. I will touch on this aspect later. I also agree with his point that people want to work. My biggest problem was supervising 50 or 60 tradespeople involved in mixed activities. Their excess of enthusiasm created a difficulty in trying to get them to slow down. Their wish to complete the job meant they could take shortcuts regarding safety. We must start from the basis that workers want to work.

I have already outlined to the Minister of State my concerns about the plethora of regulations in place. Deputy Eamon Ryan referred to a gas line. The split between various authorities and various areas is confusing, whether it relates to lifting safely, gases, electricity, radiation and so on. There is a plethora of guidelines, rules and regulations which can be difficult to implement. I welcome that there is consolidation and a merging of the various aspects of the 1989 Act and the general application requirements of 1993, including the two EU directives of 1989 and 1991. I encourage the Minister of State to continue in that vein.

One can plead ignorance at times because one is lazy and does not want to learn what they must do. However, there is a degree of confusion at times, and a splitting of responsibilities, which needs to be examined. Rules and regulations are helpful. They are introduced only after careful monitoring of the situation and with the intention of safeguarding everyone involved.

Deputy Eamon Ryan made the point, which is often made by employees of small companies or businesses, that these regulations are very onerous. However, the regulations force people to examine the situation regularly, which is to be welcomed. It is beneficial to everyone and creates an air of co-operation and a willingness by employees to become involved. They realise it is beneficial to them and most people are willing to help.

The spread of hazards and the regulations must be examined from the point of view of simplifying matters. I might get a chance later to comment on the wording in the Bill because I am not completely happy with some of it. There are significant demands on employers, and rightly so, because they have the health and at times the lives of their employees in their hands. We must devise the safest possible work practices.

When one reads the Bill first it appears that it may be difficult to implement, and there is a cost factor. However, as the Minister of State outlined — I have spoken widely on this topic — when the figures are calculated, apart from the pain and suffering and personal tragedy for families at either losing a member or a member suffering serious injury, and when all the other factors to which the Minister referred are counted, including loss of production and so on, we can prove that a good safety approach will pay off purely from the financial point of view. I would like to see more work carried out in this area because it would be beneficial to be able to prove to employers and everyone else involved that a safe workplace is financially beneficial.

Some 117,800 people suffered occupational injury in 2002, which is of concern. In my experience, for each injury, there were up to ten dangerous occurrences. One of the problems is that while a dangerous occurrence is clearly spelt out in the Bill, a considerable range of dangerous occurrences are simply ignored. Any good safety representative should have a full list of dangerous occurrences which take place in the workplace. It has been proved that for every injury, there are up to ten dangerous happenings. Some of them are small instances but they are a clear warning and indicator that there is potential for an accident, and often they are not acted on. They are ignored simply because they were not reportable or there was not an injury which had to be logged. We need to work on this aspect. When we show a safety film or hand out a safety booklet, it almost always shows a person being injured or a fatality. Many other incidents take place, and we should point out the hazards before anything happens. We are all familiar with tripping hazards and so on. If an employee is killed, it remains with the employer for the rest of his or her life. I witnessed fatalities and I saw some of the most serious injuries one could imagine, which is why I would strongly support any action taken by the Minister of State.

I cannot let this debate end without paying tribute to one group in particular, namely, the National Industrial Safety Organisation, for the work it does. It is comprised mainly of people involved in the industry, including safety officers, people involved in insurance, departmental inspectors and so on who organise seminars and various other activities. I know from speaking to him that the Minister of State is well aware of the work of these people. I put on record my appreciation, and that of the State, of their efforts. These people are mainly volunteers who give freely of their time. One of the things they do is run national safety quizzes. I captained the team in Irish Steel for a number of years. One of the advantages was that when a temporary vacancy arose in the company, I was able to step into the breach and take on the role of safety officer for six or eight months because of my participation in a supervisory role and because of the information I gleaned over the years when participating in the safety quizzes. Any such activity must be fostered, helped and sponsored because it creates a nucleus of employees who have a considerable awareness of potential difficulties. I send them my best wishes.

We must also pay tribute to FÁS. We see the fatality rate falling over the years despite rising employment, and FÁS has played a significant role in that. It carries out a wide range of work, not just training apprentices and so on, but sponsoring and carrying out many other activities. It runs classes on the SafePass course for building sites and so on. This is a one-day course which is held throughout the country. As a result of it, we no longer have the crazy situation where workers and suppliers are strolling casually around building sites and people eating sandwiches or moving equipment. There were many accidents and fatalities because of that approach. Now, even a potential house purchaser must complete the SafePass course before entering a site. This is welcome because it brings the potential difficulties to people's attention.

It is almost possible to quantify accurately the savings from all these preventative measures because one could argue forever that so many people would have been killed or injured if particular measures had not been introduced. There is undoubtedly a significant saving from accidents that do not happen, however, because of the approach we have taken. Although I would never have been a Seán Kelly or a Stephen Roche, my cycle racing career was ended by a serious foot injury which I suffered in Irish Steel. Such an accident could not have taken place a few years later when steel toe cap shoes and boots became available. This is an example of the personal suffering that takes place and which we do not factor in when considering the costs. There are tens of thousands of people whose careers, enjoyment of sport, or entire health have been affected in the long term by accidents. The injuries to such people must be quantified in some manner.

Section 13 is already grabbing the attention of the Opposition spokespeople and the media. I am concerned by the approach taken by Deputy Howlin in his contribution because the regulation provision is only a possibility. It will be considered and may be included as part of the Bill. This potential provision has been transformed into a contention that all employers will have the right to test every employee for drugs. That is a big jump. Deputy Eamon Ryan was more balanced when he quoted the possibility of random testing.

It is too early to take a jump on either side of this. Deputy Eamon Ryan referred to airlines and shipping where people have been suspended and sacked because they were under the influence of an intoxicant. Most people would agree that it is undesirable to have somebody on a job who is incapable of performing their duties because of the effects of alcohol. I have in mind particularly those employees in difficult situations such as shift work, where they may have to start work at 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. or midnight, and who may have been out socially prior to starting work. This is just one aspect of it and one must also consider those employees who work a regular time pattern. Should we be saying that no matter the circumstances, regardless of how much alcohol or drugs have been taken, employees must be allowed to carry on with their tasks? If not, what should the cut-off point be? When should an employer advise an employee to go home because he or she is under the influence?

There is a clearly defined alcohol limit for motorists and a standard procedure associated with the breach of this limit. The same is required in industry. A vague precept that one cannot come on the job if under the influence of drinks or drugs is insufficient. In dangerous jobs such as metal working, where accidents can happen in microseconds, employees should not be allowed anywhere near their tasks if they are incapacitated. The difference of one or two pints or portions of drugs could make all the difference between serious injury and possible fatality.

If Deputy Howlin and Deputy Eamon Ryan agree that a regime must be in place, then the question of testing must arise. I appreciate that nobody would want every employee in the country tested for any reason. It sounds crazy even to suggest it. The issue must be discussed, however, and the ICTU will take a sensible and responsible approach to it. If we are going to tackle safety in the workplace properly, this issue must be addressed. The Bill states that an employee must ensure that he or she is not "under the influence of an intoxicant to the extent that the state he or she is in is likely to endanger his or her own safety, health or welfare at work or that of any other person". A person could argue that he or she had taken one, four or ten pints, for example, but was still sober. The Minister of State must receive support on this. He does not have any commitment one way or the other except to the fact that he does not want people drunk or under the influence of drugs at work. I would like Opposition Members and spokespersons in particular to take a more balanced view on this and engage constructively in defining specific circumstances. It is a quantum leap from the provision that a regulation may be put in place to a contention that every employee will be tested.

I am happy that the situation of self-employed and temporary workers is explained clearly in sections 7 and 8. There has been much ambiguity in these areas and changed work practices and procedures have led to confusion. The issue of C2 certificates, for example, with everybody suddenly being dropped by the building companies and establishing companies of their own, led to significant difficulties with insurance and safety. Temporary employees are most at risk. There is a very blasé approach by many employers to students undertaking summer work, for example.

Section 10 elaborates on section 8 and lays out that instruction in workplace health and safety must be given in a form, manner and language that can be understood by the employee. I found this slightly amusing because I struggled to work through some sections of the Bill. With respect to the draftsmen and others involved, there a great deal of gobbledegook in the Bill. Even with 20 years' parliamentary experience, I found some parts difficult to translate into plain English, including the definition of terms in the opening pages. When I see this, I understand why it takes a year to draft the average Bill.

I commend the Bill to the House, compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, on beginning his work and wish him well.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I congratulate my constituency colleague, Deputy Killeen, on his elevation to the position of Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This is my first opportunity to congratulate him publicly although I have already done so in private. I am delighted at his elevation. Yesterday, I was informed by my party leader that my brief has changed to enterprise, trade and employment and I look forward to working closely with my colleague, Deputy Hogan, and engaging in some lively and constructive debates with Deputy Killeen.

I thank the Minister of State for presenting his first Bill to the House. It is an important and timely one which Fine Gael supports. It can achieve its aim of strengthening safety in the workplace, reducing accidents and reducing further the number of workplace deaths. However, as Deputy Hogan and others said, there are some sections which could ultimately be counterproductive. The Bill attempts to replace the framework as set out in the 1989 Act with a strict set of rigid, unworkable rules that are too prescriptive and difficult to police and in some instances unnecessary.

Workplace accident levels here remain too high, despite the fact that Ireland has the lowest number of accidents in the European Union, with a figure in 2002 of 61 people killed in work related accidents. In my constituency in County Clare, three people were killed in that year in work related accidents, one farm related and two construction industry accidents. There were also a number of accidents last year.

We live in an era of many large road projects and Ireland is becoming a construction site. I noticed a sign when I passed the ESB power station in Ennis — perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, also noticed it — stating how many days it was since the power station's previous accident. It is important for workers to see a notice stating, for example, that the company has been accident free for 200 days. More such notices should be displayed in workplaces because they make people aware of the dangers as they enter the office or site. Last year there were a number of serious accidents related to the gas line being installed in County Clare and one fatality in Clarecastle where an Italian worker was killed when a bridge collapsed over the River Fergus. In my area, Kildysart, a worker was critically injured.

Last year 7,746 accidents involved more than four days absence from work in each case. This is unacceptable. It is a huge burden on our health services, especially at this time when the amount of money being spent in that area is such a huge issue. We would have enormous savings if we could make people more aware of the dangers and prevent these accidents. Some 12,280 occupational injury benefit claims were made last year. Almost 1 million work days were lost due to occupational injuries and over 500,000 work days were lost due to work related illnesses. These make up the many personal, economic and production costs associated with accidents. Every death or serious accident is a blot on our industrial copybook.

It is right to spend time discussing this Bill. We all know the terrible grief caused in any household following an accident. Questions are only asked afterwards, whether if we had done this or that, we could have changed the outcome and a person could be alive or would not be crippled, etc. This important Bill updates the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 and reflects the socio-economic changes that have occurred since. It reflects the changes in size and composition of our labour market, the development and expansion of sectors such as the IT and chemical sectors and an increase in people's expectations and public awareness and concern about workplace accidents and injuries.

The Bill is particularly pertinent, given the huge changes that have occurred since 1989, for example, the influx of migrant workers which has benefited the whole country, the huge boom in industrial activity on the back of that and the huge strides in technology. The social scene and the workforce have changed. However, in the face of this new industrial landscape and in an attempt to meet the safety challenges it poses, the Government has thrown out the rule book and replaced a workable and successful system with a set of rules that may not have the desired effect.

There are problems with this Bill, just as there are with all Bills. It is important to address problems on Committee Stage. I will not raise all our concerns today, but will briefly refer to a few of them. Other speakers have mentioned some and I am sure others will be raised on Committee Stage.

The Bill provides for employees to allow themselves to be subjected to an appropriate, reasonable and proportionate test, if reasonably required by the employer. An employee is obliged to ensure that he or she is not under the influence of intoxicants, defined as alcohol or drugs, to such an extent that they are a danger to their health, safety and welfare at work. The difficulty with this provision is that it could provide an employee with a cause of action for unfair dismissal or victimisation. What is the position of a primary employer with regard to an employee of another employer on the premises and will that employee have to comply with such a request?

Section 84 gives rise to a concern to which other speakers referred. This section appears to place the burden of proof on an employer and leaves no presumption of innocence. Is this right or is there a derogation of natural justice in this provision? Perhaps the Minister of State will explain the Department's thinking on this.

I wish to raise the issue of the funding of the Health and Safety Authority in the context of this Bill. If the new legislation is to have a chance of achieving its aim of reducing workplace injury and death, the HSA must be properly funded. Many of the accidents that occur in workplaces, on construction sites, farms etc. are a result of carelessness. Many accidents also occur in schools as the authority and, I am sure, the Minister of State are aware. The HSA was recently brought in to produce a report on the condition of a school in Ennis as a result of an accident there. I hope that report will encourage the Department of Education and Science to provide the necessary funding for that national school in to upgrade its facilities.

I am delighted many industries conduct health and safety courses on a regular basis for their employees. That is important. I mentioned site notices which I believe have a positive impact. If the HSA is to carry out its function satisfactorily, it needs the resources to do so. For example, the HSA had an annual target of 8,000 building inspections, but this figure may be reduced to 4,500 because of lack of resources.

There is a boom in the construction industry in every county, with houses and industrial plants being built in all areas. However, because of the increased number of inspectors involved in pursuing cases through the courts as a result of union pressure, the presence of inspectors on building sites has fallen. The new measures in this Bill will increase inspectors' workload. However, there is no provision in the Bill for additional resources for the HSA. Another effect of the boom in the construction industry is that workers take short cuts and are prepared to take chances to get a job done. We must have enforcement of the regulations if the legislation is to be successful. Therefore, it is important that we have inspectors around the country conducting regular checks and enforcing the law. I hope the Minister of State will deal with this matter in his response.

I would like to raise the issue of penalties imposed under this Bill. SIPTU has expressed its broad support for the Bill. However, it raised the matter of an employer, found guilty of a worker's death through negligence, who claims insolvency. Instead of being given a custodial sentence, the court imposed a fine of €6,000. This seems disproportionately low considering the gravity of the case. This is further evidence of what we feel is loss of law and not much order. There are pages of legislation without the framework and funding for its implementation.

The Bill will have implications for insurance premiums. The Irish Insurance Federation has developed interesting policies in this area. I welcome recent reductions in liability insurance premia, particularly for small and medium enterprises, although they primarily relate to damages and legal costs. Deputy Hogan referred to the press conference held by the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland yesterday, which highlighted that, while insurance premia had reduced, local authority charges were a significant burden on small and medium enterprises and, therefore, it launched a nationwide awareness campaign.

While it is hoped the current reforms will reduce claim costs, people will continue to face a high damages environment for some time to come. This makes it all the more necessary to do everything we can to prevent accidents. The IIF, therefore, is calling on the Government to use part or all of the proceeds of stamp duty on liability insurance, which amounts to almost €20 million per year, to beef up workplace safety law enforcement, otherwise the potential impact of this legislation will be diluted.

I ask the Minister to listen to IBEC, SIPTU, the IIF and Members who on Committee Stage will table sound, sensible, reasonable and practicable amendments designed to improve a well meaning but flawed Bill. Unusually, in comparison to what we normally debate, this legislation concerns life and death. We cannot take the issue of safety lightly nor can we wave through flawed legislation that will not help in the long run. I look forward to the Minster's response on Committee Stage to the issues I have raised. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill, my first in my new role as junior spokesperson on enterprise, trade and employment.

Any Bill that increases the safety, health and welfare of people at work is welcome but the Government is good at introducing rafts of well intentioned legislation, which is useless without the resources to implement it. It would be better to leave the issue alone if the resources for implementation are not made available as part and parcel of the Bill.

The penalty points system, when introduced, was a great success but, without the resources to implement and maintain it, it soon fell into disrepute and fatal accidents have again become an almost daily occurrence. The Garda does not have the resources to implement the system. It was a good idea, which worked well for a while, but it was ruined by the Government's inability to properly plan its introduction and failure to set up a traffic corps and properly resource the Garda. The resolution of law and order issues has been thwarted by the Government's failure to provide the 2,000 additional gardaí it promised.

Most of the Bill's provisions are welcome but if the Government fails to appoint sufficient health and safety officers, we will experience the same ineffective result — plenty of legislation but no implementation. The Bill is too serious for the same mistakes to be made. The Government's shabby handling of the points system is costing lives on an almost daily basis, and a failure to put resources in place to implement this legislation will also cost lives.

Unlike past Administrations, the Government cannot plead lack of resources or inability to pay. Day after day, we are reminded of how well the economy is doing and of unexpected tax revenues but instead of providing the necessary resources to implement legislation, the Government considers it more important to build a slush fund for the next general election, which it hopes to win again with hand-outs and false promises.

The Minister must ensure the legislation is properly resourced. Last year 65 people died in work-related accidents and, according to the Health and Safety Authority chairman, most of these deaths were avoidable. Even when an injury is not fatal, it can have serious consequences for the victim and his or her family and employer as well as impacting on the economy as a whole.

The provision of enough health and safety inspectors is essential to achieving results when the Bill is enacted. Sufficient inspectors will always be necessary to deal with rogue companies, fly-by-night directors and employers generally who have little regard for the law. Inspectors will also be needed to deal with careless and macho workers who put their own lives at risk and endanger the health and lives of their co-workers.

The vast majority of employers and employees are extremely responsible and co-operate fully with health and safety directives. However, awareness is still a major problem and more work-based knowledge and education is needed among even the best intentioned employers and employees. Most people do not put enough emphasis on how the simplest accidents can cause death and serious injury. One of the questions asked in the FÁS safe pass programme is how far one has to fall to be killed. The examples provided demonstrate that one only has to fall from the platform or ground on which one is walking.

Safety devices such as harnesses can save one's life but they can also result in death. FÁS emphasises that too many contractors are unaware of the detrimental effect a safety harness can have on a suspended person. Harnesses can be deadly when a worker is suspended for more than five minutes in an upright position. A lone worker caught in mid-fall thinking his life has been saved can lose consciousness and die within 15 minutes if he is not removed from this position. These are only two examples of a lack of awareness among employers and employees of the consequences of the improper use of safety equipment.

The fostering and teaching of a safety culture must begin at an early age. Young people, in particular, feel invincible and believe accidents only happen to other people. Health and safety must become part of the curriculum at an early stage in the education cycle. It is a clear objective of the Health and Safety Authority to mainstream its activities on the curricula at all levels in education. While the authority has identified an action plan, its implementation will require resources. Close co-operation among the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Health and Safety Authority and the Department of Education and Science will be necessary to achieve results at an early stage. Resources will also be important in this context.

While a good school programme will significantly improve awareness into the future, the Health and Safety Authority must be properly resourced to produce an immediate impact as it works with small and medium businesses and trade unions. It is important to emphasise that the Bill treats self-employed persons in exactly the same way as companies or employees. People working for and by themselves often take risks which would not normally be acceptable. Self-employed persons must get the message that disregard for personal safety will no longer be tolerated not only for their own sakes but because of the danger of their carelessness to others. The Bill sends a strong message to those members of the public who take on builders or workers. A person must realise that he or she has an obligation to ensure that the company or person he or she hires abides by best safety practices.

Greater emphasis must be placed on agricultural accidents. Special education programmes for rural schools should be implemented immediately and farmers should be informed in no uncertain terms that health and safety requirements apply equally to them. Obligations and penalties must be enforced on farmers who breach the regulations. While co-operation by the Health and Safety Authority, farm organisations and the Department of Agriculture and Food will be essential, none of the above can be achieved without proper resources to fund the activities to ensure the implementation of the Bill's provisions.

According to the annual report of the Health and Safety Authority, inspections in the agriculture area were carried out on machine operations, manual handling, livestock handling, working on heights and child safety. The authority carried out 856 agricultural inspections in 2003, 14% of which were follow-up inspections and 5% inspections made on foot of complaints. Enforcement action was taken in 17% of cases. Despite these activities and the publication of a code which was highlighted as part of a farm safety campaign and distributed and advertised at many farming events, including the national ploughing championships, accidents on farms continue to occur much too frequently, especially among young people. There is a need for an extensive educational programme, especially in rural schools. Such a programme should begin as soon as this Bill has been enacted. The Farm Safety Action Plan 2003-2007 was published last year and its implementation has begun. The core of the initiative was a farm safety self-assessment document which was produced by the Health and Safety Authority. The document has been distributed to the majority of farmers. While there has been a significant response from many, further resources for enforcement must be put in place to deal with rogue farmers who ignore the law.

I emphasise the importance of implementing and enforcing the health and safety regulations in this Bill on which lives depend. While there can be no higher priority, the Government must address concerns about implementation costs, especially through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. IBEC says businesses are told by the Government to be compliant with all its regulations and to operate more cheaply. IBEC feels there is no overview from Government of the combined impact of the wide range of new regulations on industry which now cover environmental rules, corporate governance, auditing, health and safety and many other areas. The higher cost of regulation cannot be recovered from customers and will have an adverse impact on future investment decisions. This is increasingly important given the growth in strong competition from new foreign direct investment.

As part of the national agreement, Sustaining Progress, the Government promised to bring forward analysis of how new regulations were affecting industry, our competitiveness and job creation. Without this analysis and Government action, regulations will continue to undermine competitiveness at a time when export margins are being squeezed by higher costs. Static prices on world markets also cause problems. While the Government constantly tells us how business friendly it is and how our competitiveness as a nation has strengthened the economy, it fails to take into consideration the impact of new regulations. While regulations such as those in the health and safety area must be fully implemented and enforced, the cost to business should be examined to ensure that competitiveness is not affected.

The Government has imposed massive stealth taxes on businesses. By failing to fund local authorities adequately, the Government has pushed up the cost of rates while massively increasing charges for waste collection and water. Not only does the Government expect businesses, rightly, to spend large amounts of money to implement health and safety and other regulations, it imposes stealth taxes at a significant rate. The Government has introduced development charges at local authority level which will have the effect of increasing the cost of a house by between €15,000 and €20,000. It presides over a rip-off economy which is revealed in statistics on a daily basis. These actions have increased pressure for more wage rises which again affect the ability of industry and business to remain competitive. The Government must examine these problems closely. To move away from its rip-off and stealth tax mentality is the only way for the Government to deal with these issues. If the Government succeeds, individuals and businesses will be able to afford to implement the new health and safety regulations without damaging basic cost-effectiveness.

As well as being affected by the many new regulations outlined in the Bill, it will continue to be the duty of an employer to do everything possible to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees is paramount. The list of specific duties and responsibilities on employers will include adequate instruction and training which must be provided without the loss of earnings to employees. Employers must also ensure, as far as is reasonably possible, that others in the place of work who are not employees are not exposed to danger. All employers must identify hazards in the workplace in a risk assessment document. Employers will still be required to produce a written safety statement which identifies the risks and hazards in their workplace. Under this legislation, such safety statements will have to be renewed on an annual basis. Previous requirements together with the new regulations required under this Bill place an enormous responsibility on employers and allow for hefty penalties for non-compliance. It should be clearly understood this legislation also places obligations on employees who can be penalised for non-compliance.

Though it is not explicit in the Bill, there is an onus on the Government to provide the Health and Safety Authority with the resources required to allow it adequately enforce the provisions of this legislation. Fine Gael welcomes the Bill and emphasises that without proper resourcing it will be yet more wishful thinking legislation introduced by this Government.

I wish to share time with Deputy Broughan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and to address the serious health and safety issues in the area of agriculture. As the Labour Party spokesperson on agriculture I have had reason to look at the statistics in that area and have followed them for the past two or three years. Statistics in terms of accidents and fatalities in the farming community are particularly horrifying. It is an area which requires more attention.

A recent seminar held in University College Dublin and jointly hosted by Teagasc, UCD and the Health and Safety Authority highlighted the fact that agriculture is one of Ireland's most hazardous occupations. The fatality statistics, which are very stark, highlighted the fact that almost one-third of occupational fatalities between 1992 and 2004 occurred in agriculture. Earlier this year the Health and Safety Authority in a separate publication noted that the death rate on farms is four times that of all other Irish industries put together.

While I would particularly like to address the safety concerns in agriculture, there are other aspects of the Bill with which I would like to deal. The type of data accumulated in this area requires us to stand back and look at what is or, perhaps, is not happening on farms in terms of the implementation of safety statements. Another of the results of the research report presented at the seminar in UCD was that a work-related injury occurred on almost 10% of sample farms over a five year period. More than one third of farms that experienced an injury reported an economic loss as a result while 45% of those injured were admitted to hospital. There are two very significant factors involved there. While prevention of fatalities is our primary concern, prevention of injury is also important. We must also take into account the enormous economic losses imposed on farm families as a result of such accidents.

Another interesting statistic produced in the report was that while farmers were aware of the dangers of farm work only 75% of them classified their farm as safe or believed they were responsible for the elimination of such hazards. Of the farms surveyed, only 10% had in place a safety statement. As Deputy Murphy said earlier, in terms of compliance, it is unacceptable that farmers do not have safety statements in place. It is important also we do not offload all of our criticism on to farmers. The support agencies have an important role to play in this area. They should try to make it easier for farmers to become compliant and should assist them in dealing with what they view as another burdensome piece of bureaucracy. It is fair to say that farmers have an instinctive resistance to filling out forms. While that is understandable — I hope that will change somewhat in the future — it is not an excuse for non-compliance. It is more important farmers are compliant than that they put in place safety statements, but if they are not aware of their need to put in place a safety statement, they are less likely to be compliant.

It has been my experience in dealing with other aspects of safety statements that there is often an overload in terms of bureaucracy and documentation. Many of the quality assurance programmes drafted and presented in glossy folders are left to wilt and no one ever looks at them again. It is not enough to simply put in place a safety statement, one has to implement it.

While farmers appreciate and accept responsibility for their welfare on a farm the risks to which children can be exposed is much more important. The most heartbreaking accidents are those involving children as they are often the type of accidents that could and should be prevented. What may appear to children as an exciting game can often be hazardous. It is for that reason that those with responsibility for managing farms must take account of the hazards to which children might be exposed which do not pose the same threat to adults.

Deputy Murphy mentioned the code of practice for preventing accidents involving children and young people in agriculture. While many such codes of practice exist, the Health and Safety Authority's code of practice is specifically aimed at children. It might be worthwhile to look at some of the ideas arising from practices in the United States such as safety camps which are organised with farm children in mind. It is an entertaining way of introducing children to the risks and hazards of a farm. An analysis of the value of such camps was positive and showed that the children not only learned from it but that they also passed the knowledge on to their parents. There was a positive spin from the entertaining aspect of their learning experience.

Members will have noticed that most workplaces and shops display statements such as "Children must be supervised at all times." There are other reasons besides safety for displaying such signs such as breakages and so on. I do not know how that could be applied to a farm where such statements are not displayed. There is no public awareness on farms of the risks to which children might be exposed.

The chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority recently noted two particular elements of the Bill which he believed were important. They related to farming practices and his concerns in that regard. He said at the seminar in UCD:

. . . a Code of Practice on Safety Statements is proposed for sectors where an employer has less than 3 employees. [This would be important on small farms]. However, the legal requirement to have a workplace specific written risk assessment would remain in place, and completion of the Authority's Farm Safety Self Assessment Document provides farmers with the opportunity to satisfy that requirement.

On the second relevant change proposed in the Bill in terms of on-the-spot fines he said: "While the Authority has made no policy decision on the use of such measures in enforcing the legislation, I can see that such fines might be appropriate where inspectors observe serious risks to safety such as those associated with unfenced over-ground slurry pits and unguarded machinery." They are the two specific items identified by the chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority in relation to farm accidents. On-the-spot fines are a positive way to ensure people are compliant but, as Deputy Murphy pointed out, unless the resources are in place and there are enough inspectors to enforce the legislation, they are a waste of time.

The role of the farming organisations has been identified. They have been positive in providing back-up information and encouraging farmers to comply but that role should be expanded to ensure greater co-operation, particularly to provide support and information to farmers who are filling out safety statements.

The Minister of State drew attention to the fact that the primary responsibility for worker safety falls to the employer. It is important to emphasise the role of the employer and to lay the responsibility with them for issues where employees feel vulnerable. Protective clothing and equipment and appropriate training must be available. Last week I visited a waste disposal company in my constituency and employees were handling refuse, household waste, including organic waste, and other hazardous material. I noticed that employees were working without protective masks. As a casual observer, I saw this as unacceptable. I drew this to the attention of the line management staff and I was told that employees were supplied with masks but chose not to wear them. It is totally irresponsible for the employer not to enforce that requirement. I reported this to the Health and Safety Authority because this is a hazardous employment environment which does not need additional risk added.

I visited a school in my constituency during the week and I was appalled at the state of the windows. They had to be kept closed or they would fall out. The question then arises of safety. What would happen if there was a fire? The teachers are doing their best and there must be priorities for spending. After the wastage of last year on electronic voting, Punchestown and Abbotstown, priority should now be given to schools.

The needs of immigrant workers should be taken on board. They are contributing to the economy and, therefore, language barriers must be addressed. This is mentioned in the Bill but documentation and training should be provided in their languages — it is already happening throughout the food industry. It is also important that casual and temporary employees, who are not in work when health and safety training takes place, receive attention. We must, however, avoid the introduction of more layers of bureaucracy because documentation might take over and implementation might take second place.

Unless the resources are in place, with an adequate inspectorate and sufficient back-up for the Health and Safety Authority, no matter how good the Bill is, it will not be enforced. Overall, I welcome the Bill which is timely and appropriate and I am pleased that there will be an annual review of each safety statement.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and commend the Minister of State on bringing to the House the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill 2004.

For the past seven years, the Labour Party has called for this legislation again and again. We wanted the 1989 legislation to be upgraded and strengthened and it is sad to note that it was only when the Tánaiste and former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment finally left that Department that the Minister of State brought this legislation before the House. I congratulate Deputy Killeen on his appointment and welcome the fact that at long last we have this legislation.

Over the past seven and a half years, the burgeoning construction industry which, according toConstruction News, employs 200,000 workers, has made up a significant percentage of our gross domestic product — this year 75,000 residential units will be completed. During the Tánaiste’s period as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, however, there were appalling injury and death statistics in the construction industry, an unacceptable state of affairs. In the early part of 2002 there were 15 construction related deaths, with 19 between January and October 2001. In the past few years, the litany of disaster has continued, with 15 or 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries annually without the Government taking action to address it. A few years ago Judge Kelly started meting out reasonably serious punishment to employers who did not give a damn about safety on sites.

It is striking that the Health and Safety Authority in its report two years ago blamed mismanagement on building sites, particularly smaller ones, for being the major contributory factor in the appalling catalogue of deaths in the past seven years. It stated in the report that 45% of accidents resulted directly from site management failures. That is a shocking indictment of the Tánaiste's failure to address this issue.

My colleague in SIPTU, Mr. Eric Fleming, and colleagues in BATU have campaigned vigorously in recent years for this catalogue of carnage in construction to be addressed. The leader of the Labour Party has called many times for legislation to place the crime of corporate manslaughter on the Statute Book so recalcitrant employers who break the provisions for safety training and statements and general duties clearly set out in the legislation will be punished. It is appalling that we have not faced up to the problems that have existed in the past.

Some Deputies referred to the large numbers of immigrant workers. In my district on the north side of Dublin, a number of institutions are successfully operating the SafePass course which must be taken by construction workers every four years. Workers may not be sufficiently proficient in English, especially the workers from the new EU states such as Poland and Lithuania. I urge the Minister of State to give particular attention to this issue.

I commend the introduction of the Bill. Such legislation has been promised for many years but we had to wait until the change of Minister for it to happen. I thank the Health and Safety Authority for its efforts. It is striking that the authority is still under-resourced. Its inspection of sites in the agriculture, hunting and forestry area still seem to be much lower than desirable. It is extraordinary that 40% of sites in the construction industry do not have safety statements. I warmly welcome the legislation on behalf of the Labour Party and urge the Minister of State to ensure its speedy implementation.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Deenihan. This legislation has been long-awaited, especially by those workers who are being denied what should be their right to a safe work environment. There should be no equivocation. All workers must have their rights to a safe work environment upheld and protected. It is stark and deeply regrettable that there have been 35 work-related deaths so far this year. Only yesterday, a man in his early 50s from Bunclody was killed in a workplace accident at Enniscorthy, County Wexford. The Health and Safety Authority is carrying out an investigation into this latest fatality.

In 2002, 3.156 million work days were lost due to work-related injuries and illnesses. According to the HSA, in 2003 alone, an estimated 20,900 persons suffered work-related injuries that required absences from work of three days or more. In 2003, there were 65 work-related fatalities.

Sinn Féin welcomes any legislation which seeks to bring about a reduction in the number of people killed and injured in work-related accidents. There has long been concern from trade unions and others that the penalties faced by negligent employers have not been severe and have not constituted proper deterrents. The resourcing of the Health and Safety Authority has also been a cause of major concern. While welcoming this legislation, it is nevertheless crucial to mention that the Health and Safety Authority must be properly resourced if it is to fulfil its responsibilities under this legislation. A shortage of health and safety inspectors has been identified as a factor in hindering the authority's ability to carry out its functions. In recent years, the number of inspections has declined. The Minister of State needs to assure the House that this situation will be addressed.

Business and employer representatives should be keen to embrace measures which improve health and safety because not only do these measures have benefits in terms of reducing work-related deaths and accidents, they also bring about a reduction in absenteeism due to workplace accidents or ill-health and a decrease in the number of claims that can be brought.

I wish to address a number of issues, including the provisions for drug and alcohol testing of employees, the particular problems in the construction sector, including the problems caused as a result of sub-contracting, and the necessity to introduce legislation on corporate killing. I have serious concerns regarding the provisions in section 13(c) of the Bill that an employee shall, “if reasonably required by his or her employer, submit to any appropriate, reasonable and proportionate tests by a competent person as may be prescribed”. Random drug and alcohol testing should only be undertaken in the most exceptional circumstances, given that the experience can be both degrading and humiliating. The benefits of random drug testing have never been conclusively proved either as a deterrent or as a method of discovering which employees are using intoxicants.

Without significant evidence, I ask the Minister of State to revisit the issue of giving employers such wide-ranging powers which are open to abuse in the form of harassment of workers if used improperly, including attempts by employers to get rid of employees. This is arguably a violation of the rights of workers and their dignity. It should be remembered that this proposition is against the backdrop that members of the Garda Síochána must have reasonable suspicion prior to testing a driver for intoxication. The former Minister for Transport was proposing that a provision for random testing would be included in the Road Traffic Bill and sources close to him were quoted as saying there was also a possibility that the Bill may be referred to the Supreme Court by the President because of the inclusion of random testing.

Similar concerns must be raised in respect of the provisions in this Bill. Employers should have a reasonable suspicion that a person is intoxicated before requiring an employee to submit to such a test. Will the Minister of State insert an amendment requiring reasonable suspicion? I hope my arguments offered and examples given are sufficient to sustain the case for him doing so. Will comprehensive regulations be introduced regarding the proposals on random testing, specifying exactly what employers may and may not do? Has any examination been undertaken prior to the publication of this Bill to the penalties which will be incurred by employers who abuse these provisions?

There is a real sense among workers and their representatives that until people go to jail or there is a real deterrent, accidents will continue to happen. I welcome the introduction of the on-the-spot fines and that company directors and managers may be held liable in circumstances where they are found to have contributed to any offence. I also welcome that the Bill contains provisions for safety representatives to refer matters to a rights commissioner if they are being penalised as a result of their safety duties. There were 19 construction-related deaths last year and there have been 12 to date this year. These are harrowing statistics. Studies by the HSA and the Health and Safety Executive found that a significant proportion of clients, designers and project supervisors fail to meet their statutory obligations. One such study indicated that at least 25% of the factors causing fatal accidents in the construction industry in this State in the past ten years were attributable to decisions taken prior to the start of construction work. I welcome the provisions in Chapter 3 in respect of the duties of designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers. Proposed new construction regulations which place a range of new responsibilities on clients and supervisors have been approved by the HSA and its construction advisory committee, which includes representatives of trade unions and professional bodies.

Concerns have been expressed to me regarding the issuance of qualification certification in some areas allied to the construction industry and this is a matter I intend to reflect directly to the Minister over the coming days. I urge the Minister to pay attention to this area because there is a question as to whether people who are being certified to take up positions on construction sites in the State have gone through an adequate and properly chartered introductory course, examination, assessment and so on. In the interests of the safety of the individual and of all involved in the construction industry, and of the wider public, the highest standards must be applied in this area at all times.

I ask the Minister of State to address the concerns raised by trade unions and others that those proposed regulations are being rolled back as a result of having come under political pressure from vested interests, including professional bodies, such as the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland and the Society of Chartered Surveyors who wish to stonewall changes in legislation. In the absence of those regulations this legislation will mean little for the construction sector. This is an issue the Minister of State must address in his response.

The other issue which has been cited as a major factor in the high level of accidents and fatalities at building sites is the system of sub-contracting, which is also well known to be the source of rampant abuse of workers' rights on sites. Workers employed by a sub-contractor enjoy no protection from labour law and get no entitlements to pension, job security, holiday or sick pay, or even wet money when the job is rained off. Dangers on sites have been aggravated for sub-contractors anxious to get the job done fast. They ignore crucial safety regulations.

The Revenue Commissioners have been severely criticised by BATU, the Building & Allied Trade's Union, among others, for facilitating what it has termed bogus self-employment. This matter is particularly relevant to this Bill because of the safety implications mentioned above and the fact that such workers, when injured in workplace accidents, have no protections or entitlements. That situation cannot be allowed to continue.

There is a long-standing demand also from unions for the introduction of a crime of corporate killing. There is a justifiable concern at the absence of criminal law to convict companies of manslaughter where a death has occurred due to gross negligence by the organisation as a whole. It is a widely held belief that corporate killing rules in force in many other states would create a strong deterrent. Some employers make what is effectively a cost benefit analysis in relation to compliance with existing health and safety regulations and come to the conclusion that it costs less to pay the penalties than to pay the cost associated with compliance with safety regulations.

I am aware that the Government has implied that plans to introduce a corporate manslaughter provision were not included on foot of legal advice that this complex area would require separate legislation. I hope the Minister of State will tell the House when that legislation will be introduced.

In October 2003 the Law Reform Commission published a consultation paper on corporate killing in which it pointed out that section 48(17) of the 1989 Act is limited in scope to the particular context of an employer in breach of duties within the workplace setting which has been imposed by that Act. It went on to point out: "The offence is only committed where a death, wherever it occurs, is consequential upon a breach of duty to maintain a safe place of work." The Law Reform Commission pointed out that the most fundamental shortcoming of the offence under section 48(17) of the 1989 Act was that it may only be prosecuted as a summary offence rather than an indictment.

The Law Reform Commission recommended in that consultation paper that corporations should be subject to criminal liability for corporate killing. It recommended the establishment of a statutory corporate killing offence which would be prosecuted on indictment. The Government must establish a crime of corporate killing in law and thereby ensure that company directors have a duty to safeguard their workers and the public. Only by making it legally enforceable can we expect a level of compliance that is absolutely essential.

While I have concerns, which I have expressed regarding the provisions on drug testing — I hope the Minister of State will take on board the case I have made allied to the situation currently pertaining to the Garda Síochána — I wish to record my welcome for the legislation. I hope the Health and Safety Authority will be properly resourced to carry out its functions adequately and effectively. I look forward to the legislation on corporate killing being brought before the House at an early date.

I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin for affording me some time to contribute to the debate. I congratulate the Minister of State on his portfolio, which is richly deserved. He has been an impressive contributor in the House since becoming a Member and certainly in his case talent was recognised and rewarded.

This is important legislation which I wish to look at from a different angle. I have been afforded the opportunity of looking at the whole area of corporate fitness. Every place of work and every employer should by law have a safety statement. A safety statement focuses an employer on possible hazards that may exist in the workplace. I am involved in one particular project where an extensive safety statement had to be drawn up. It focused everybody on possible hazards for the workers involved. Recent figures from the Health and Safety Authority show that of the employers inspected in 2003, 60% had a safety statement and, of that number, 60% had a statement that was deemed to be in full or broad compliance with the legal requirement. That is not good enough. In the agriculture and forestry sector only 18.5% had a safety statement. Therefore, there is a great deal of work to be done in the area of compliance.

During the past 30 years, the nature of work in Ireland has changed dramatically. Not long ago much of the energy that drove Ireland's economy in factories, construction work, farms, food outlets, road building and industry was derived from human muscle power. Ireland has experienced its own industrial revolution, with the workplace becoming more automated and computerised, and today muscle power accounts only for a small percentage of total energy expenditure. Fewer choose to walk or cycle as their main means of transport due to changes in lifestyle. There is a tendency to have the main meal of the day in the evening and afterwards to watch television. For many the work week continues to expand. Some of those in positions of management work up to 60 hours per week and many employees work the same number of hours. Workers arrive in the office earlier to avoid rush hour traffic and they work over weekends. Rather than the work week getting shorter, as was predicted in the 1970s when we thought there would be a major problem in terms of the leisure time available to people, it is extending. It would be interesting to conduct a survey on the length of time people work.

As a result of the changing nature of work and the changing lifestyles outside the workplace, the country is experiencing what some medical experts have referred to as an epidemic of degenerate disorders. One in five Irish adults suffer from obesity. The levels are rising rapidly, with the number of those becoming obese doubling every ten years. Obesity is strongly linked to diabetes, increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other life threatening conditions. The cost in terms of stress and employee burn-out is beginning to manifest itself right across the workforce. According to figures supplied in a written reply in July I note that in 2002 the total number of persons suffering injury in the workplace was 51,800, resulting in 857,300 days lost from work.

In 2003, the number of people suffering injuries reduced to 43,100 with the loss of 610,400 days. The total number of days lost due to illness and injury in 2003 was 1.286 million and in 2002 was 1.441 million. This demonstrates a substantial financial loss to companies as a result of reduced productivity. Employee burnout results in the loss of key personnel, in many cases because of ill health and early retirement. The Exchequer also loses out in terms of productivity, tax take and health care costs.

Companies and State agencies now realise that these costs are preventable in many cases. Research has shown that 20% of the burden of illness and associated costs is related to preventable illnesses caused by factors, including tobacco use, alcohol consumption, poor diet and nutrition and lack of exercise. Physical activity, once inherent in the workplace, can be replaced with fitness and wellness programmes which can be incorporated in the daily work routine.

There has been particular interest and encouragement in the US for incorporating fitness and wellness programmes into the daily routine of employees. In Ireland we are improving our efforts through such companies as Intel, Aer Rianta, Microsoft and Dell and we should encourage this aspect of health promotion. For example, employee's vouchers for fitness clinics should not be classed as benefit-in-kind and should not be taxed. There should also be incentives for employers to provide exercise facilities on site for their employees.

I wish the new Minister of State well in his task. I hope he has an enjoyable term in office and keeps the seat warm for one of my colleagues.

I welcome the general thrust of the Bill but I have some concerns to which I referred on the Order of Business. I had some contact with the Health and Safety Authority recently in regard to incidents on the Luas line in my constituency. Before Luas was running, one Thursday night, two motorcyclists came off their motorcycles within 200 yards of one another and were both killed, which fact was known by that Saturday. Before the accidents took place, a constituent informed me he had contacted the Health and Safety Authority on Thursday about his concerns. The problem appeared to be that when the motorcyclists braked on the metal tracks they lost control. Two similar accidents occurred shortly afterwards — another involving a motorbike and one involving a push bike — in which the people involved could have been killed.

I contacted the Health and Safety Authority on the Monday and was surprised to discover that staff had not been to inspect the work site. Moreover, I had to get a bit shirty because of the response I received. I presumed that when I contacted the office first, staff would say how terrible the incident was and resolve to look into the matter. However, I was told staff could only investigate the matter on foot of a Garda complaint. These incidents had been the subject of major news stories over the weekend and were raised with me by a number of people who were concerned about the darkness of the site.

I was so concerned that I drove to the site on the Saturday night, which was like going through a military checkpoint late at night. Barriers were in place but it was not particularly well lit. I eventually got to speak to the chief executive of the HSA after he had sent someone to inspect the site in the afternoon. However, I made the point to him that his staff were sluggish to react to the situation and that they should not wait for a Garda complaint. I told him it was unacceptable that when a Member of the Dáil or a public representative telephones the office to ask if a situation is being investigated, he or she is told that the office normally waits until it receives a Garda complaint. I do not know whether it had anything to do with my actions but that Monday afternoon a garda and an official from the Health and Safety Authority were on-site making the necessary inquiries. Nevertheless, I am not happy with that response. When two young people die on what was a work site, an independent body, if not the Health and Safety Authority, should be responsible for immediately inspecting the site,

I do not wish to be alarmist, but I remain concerned about the safety of Luas in Dublin, particularly since a new Luas recently came off its rails. I fail to understand why and how that could happen, and it is a serious issue. There are teething problems with people getting used to Luas. However, my concerns are not confined to Luas.

The bus accident on Wellington Quay some months ago was a terrible tragedy. As it is the subject of an ongoing investigation, I will make no further comment on it. Nevertheless, private notice questions in respect of the accident were, quite rightly, taken by the Minister for Transport in the House on the day. However, when the two motorcyclists died in my constituency in the circumstances to which I referred, I could not get an answer to a parliamentary question because the Department of Transport stated that it had no responsibility. This is a terrible inconsistency.

Neither the Department of Transport, Luas nor any other body should be allowed to police themselves. Rather, there should be a proactive, independent public safety authority which addresses all these issues. My understanding is that the Tánaiste, as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, received a report which has not yet seen the light of day and I ask that it be published. I understand the report recommends that an independent public safety authority be established which would examine Luas, airports, venues for events and so on, not just as workplaces but also from a public safety point of view. It may be possible to establish such a body as a subsidiary of the Health and Safety Authority, thereby precluding the need to have another authority. If it is, will the Minister of State see if the Bill can be amended on Committee Stage to provide for it?

Independent consultants have identified the need for a public safety authority, independent of Government and agencies operating facilities, to examine proactively and retrospectively the circumstances surrounding events and make recommendations and findings thereon. If such a body were in place, the Minister for Transport would not have to establish a body comprising national and international representatives to investigate the circumstances surrounding the terrible bus tragedy on Wellington Quay. An authority would already have been in place, which could not be called into question and which did not involve CIE, and with the powers to assess the public safety needs. Will the Minister of State consider that because it is an issue?

There needs to be less sluggishness on the part of the Health and Safety Authority. It needs to be more proactive and a little more sensitive, especially when there is a serious tragedy. It must also be quicker to investigate situations than my experience has shown. Beyond that, either the remit of the Health and Safety Authority as a sub-authority needs to be changed or a new authority needs to be set up to examine public safety issues such as those I have raised. I referred to Luas, but there are many other areas that the report, which was given to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment but has not seen the light of day, has probably addressed.

I would appreciate it if the Minister of State took my concerns into account and addressed them on Committee Stage. This is not a party political issue, but is an issue about which I am genuinely concerned. I do not think the Health and Safety Authority sees itself as having the role, but I would like someone to examine how Luas operates, check if it is safe and, if not, what standards need to be put in place before there are any further accidents. That same principle should be extended to anywhere public safety could be endangered.

I congratulate the Minister of State and the Acting Chairman, Deputy Stanton, on their recent promotions. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 set out general duties of care and laid particular emphasis on the protection of employees and third parties in the workplace through prevention rather than cure. This Bill updates the 1989 Act and brings the legislation into line with changes in the interim period.

Employers have a duty to ensure that workplaces are safe, tasks are carried out safely, risks are eliminated or minimised and employees are competent to perform their duties and do not place others at risk. It is incumbent on employers to ensure the psychological well-being of employees and provide a stress-free and fulfilling atmosphere in the workplace. All too often, we are aware of employees who detest going to work. The thought of work on a Monday morning fills them with stress. Someone in that situation cannot be a happy individual and cannot be described as being safe at work. Someone who has a negative attitude at work will be much more prone to accidents and would not be as productive as other employees who are happy in the workplace. This is skipped over too often. Employers should be much more aware of employees who are unhappy.

The provision of child care would also lead to a happier workplace. Too often, this is not addressed and it is a fundamental aspect of people who come to work. We should examine providing crèches and child care facilities as employees do not have the luxury of having an extended family network which in the past cared for their children. A large chunk of employees' wages now goes on paying childminders and so on. Companies of a particular size should strive towards providing this type of facility in the workplace. Smaller companies might have a difficulty with that. In my constituency area of north Monaghan, small production units have major difficulties striving to survive without the additional thought of having to provide child care facilities. However, it is something that larger companies should examine.

Employers should take a proactive role in providing for the welfare of their employees by subsidising access to health services such as stress management and health insurance. Employers should be aware of such provisions and should give practical advice and financial support in helping to achieve these particular aims. The State should also play its part in encouraging healthy lifestyles for employees by enabling businesses to write off any expenses incurred in this way as a tax deductible expense. The State can play a significant role by leading by example. This is not necessarily the case in all areas.

The provision in this Bill for on-the-spot fines for employers or employees is to be welcomed. However, fines should be pitched at a more realistic level. A fine of €100 or even €1,000 is unrealistic for some companies. The fine may not be enough to dissuade them from taking the risks. Fines would be accompanied by imprisonment if the offence were sufficiently serious. Minor offences in a District Court would be liable, on conviction, to a maximum fine of €3,000 or six months' imprisonment or both. Serious offences, on conviction in a Circuit Court, would attract fines of up to €3 million or two years' imprisonment or both. I sometimes wonder about legislation brought in. Are we likely to see a few convictions when this legislation is passed and the media show an interest in it? When the Public Health (Tobacco) Act was introduced, there were many on-the-spot checks and it got much publicity. It has now almost gone off the radar screens. It is important that we keep chasing it up and that we do not put legislation in place just for the sake of it and not use it. There will be times when it will be necessary to use such legislation. It would certainly act as a deterrent and would lead to a reduction of the 1.5 million work days lost annually through work related accidents and illnesses. If we comply and are more aware of safety in the workplace, the savings to be made are enormous.

There is also an excellent provision in the Bill for the Health and Safety Authority to name and shame those persons convicted in the courts and on whom a fine was imposed. Prior to now, we had a long established practice of naming and shaming restaurants where hygiene standards left much to be desired. It has an effect. How much more urgent is the necessity to publish the names of those who, by their actions, place the lives of employees and work colleagues at risk? Employers are often at fault, but we cannot escape the fact that fellow workers regularly do not treat their mates with the degree of safety in mind that they should. It is often the case that one employee is at fault for an accident to another. Employees should be mindful of that aspect of safety at work.

Employees also have a duty to co-operate with employers in ensuring the safety and well-being of all workers in a firm. The Bill specifies that employees may not be under the influence of an intoxicant and I presume that this provision also includes the influence of drugs. Employers are empowered to have testing carried out by a registered medical practitioner for such substances to which the employee is required to admit. It is a fact that employees sometimes turn up for work under the effects of drink, especially on a Monday morning. Before an employer would request that an employee be tested there should be reasonable evidence that he or she is creating a danger or suffering the effects of taking alcohol or drugs. Otherwise, it could leave people open to abuse. Employees may require medical examinations if they are considered to be intoxicated and they work in a particularly sensitive or potentially dangerous job. I welcome the section that provides for employees to have the right of appeal against dismissal or penalisation in respect of health and safety matters.

I referred to naming and shaming companies that do not have a good safety record. We should also name companies that have a good safety record. I met an employee of the ESB in Monaghan recently and when talking about health and safety matters he mentioned that the ESB in the Monaghan area has the best safety record in the country and did not have a notifiable accident in a five year period. If that was highlighted, employees would take pride in their company having a good safety record. We should try to instil pride in employees who have a good safety record. I am not suggesting we should brush anything under the carpet. If accidents occur, they should be openly and fully investigated with the main objective being that they will not happen again. If blame needs to be laid on somebody, that should happen.

A sea change is required in attitude to health and safety requirements. People view adherence to health and safety requirements as a necessary evil and consider that what is involved can be cumbersome and expensive. There is often a temptation by employers and employees to take short-cuts and to dismiss the safety implications or the wearing of safety gear. In the past, ear muffs were provided by employers and some employees adopted the attitude that they would not wear them. Protective goggles and clothing, and steel-toe boots, particularly in the building trade, were also provided by employers. People must take time out to familiarise themselves with these requirements.

Health and safety costs money but it saves lives. If a cost benefit analysis was carried out, adhering to health and safety requirements should win by a long shot. Deaths still occur in places of employment and too often we read of accidents in workplaces, including construction sites, which could have been avoided. There is an onus on people to take their work seriously, including the health and safety aspects of it.

The election of a health and safety representative in a workplace is a key function to ensuring safety there. When elected, a health and safety representative has to undergo considerable training to gain a knowledge of substances, safety regulations and other such matters. It is not a position that should be changed every few years. If employers invest in training a health and safety representative, he or she should be allowed to function in that role for a long period. New representatives should have a training-in period. The position of such a representative is sometimes overlooked or an employer can simply toss the position to a, b, or c simply to give that person the status attaching to the post. This position is a key area in worker representation and should be taken seriously.

The Health and Safety Authority needs to be adequately funded, especially in view of the additional responsibilities being placed on it arising from the provisions of this Bill. It comes back to funding. I call for adequate funding to be made available to the authority.

I wish to raise a health and safety issue that the Minister of State may be able to assist in addressing. It relates to the building industry and work on building sites. I am aware that some Members have spoken of the dangers related to the building industry. In Dublin city in particular and elsewhere throughout the country there is major redevelopment. There are building sites on virtually every street corner.

An issue has come to my attention in respect of which there is an anomaly and it should be addressed. When a local authority in Dublin grants planning permission, and this is the position in most other local authorities, it imposes conditions, one of the main ones being the stipulation of work times. The normal work times for a building site are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. If planning permission, when granted by the local authority, is appealed by residents or others, the appeal goes to An Bord Pleanála which rejects it and grants the permission it invariably removes the conditions, which I find quite incredible. However, that has happened time and again in instances of which I am aware. Having talked to planning consultants and others involved in planning, I gather this is happening throughout the country. I do not know the reason for this and it has been brought to the attention of An Bord Pleanála, but it continues to happen. I am dealing with such a case in my constituency and the end result is that the builders or developers, depending on how much of a rush they are in, how much money they want to make and how quickly they want to make it, can have employees work on a building site virtually right around the clock — I am slightly exaggerating — or certainly from the early hours of the morning until late at night. This is happening, with all the implications that has for the health and safety of the workers concerned.

My attention has been drawn to this issue from a different angle, from the point of view of a person who lives next to a building site and the disruption caused, for example, by a lorry load of bricks being delivered at 3 a.m. and work on the site commencing at that time, or if one has young children and is trying to get them to sleep at 9 p.m. when work on the development is still going strong. Such work times on sites have clear implications. I am being honest in saying that this issue was not brought to my attention from the point of view of health and safety but from the point of view of the sanity of residents whose dwellings adjoin such building sites.

When I was investigating what could be done about this matter, I was told that the Health and Safety Authority has some powers but they are not very effective and only in certain and quite exceptional circumstances can it take action. That is the position as outlined by the planning consultant to whom I spoke. I am not interested in changing the legislation or changing the brief of the Health and Safety Authority on an issue such as this. The Minister, the Department or the authority could bring this matter to the attention of An Bord Pleanála. I accept that it is an independent body and we cannot interfere with its decisions, but what I suggest does not constitute interference. It is simply to draw its attention to something that should not happen in the first place. Considering this issue logically, the board does not have to examine whether a site requires such work times to operate because of its proximity to residents or for some other reason. The local authority concerned would have done that. If the conditions relating to time of work are set down in the original planning application, it is clear that the local authority that granted the permission imposed those conditions for a good reason. It seems logical that when An BordPleanála decides to reject an appeal and grant a permission that it would grant it with those standard conditions attached. There is no difficulty in it doing that. I am told that if residents who make an appeal state in it that if the appeal is lost they wish those conditions to remain, An Bord Pleanála leaves those conditions attached.

It is quite extraordinary that the onus is virtually on the appellant. In many instances the appellant may be a householder or a small residents' group that is not familiar with the implications of making an appeal.

Most responsible builders and developers, when they receive their permission, will respect the standard times and safe times of work and will not keep workers on site after hours in poorly lit conditions with dangerous equipment, trenches and scaffolding. However, problems arise in respect of irresponsible or greedy builders and developers, of whom there are many, certainly in Dublin city and I have no doubt elsewhere. Will the Minister, through his Department and in co-operation with the Health and Safety Authority or other bodies, try to resolve this issue to ensure that such problems will not occur? Standard conditions that apply generally to building sites should continue to apply regardless of whether An Bord Pleanála is involved or whether there are appeals over planning permission.

I wish the Minister of State well in his new position and I know he will do a good job.

This is a very important Bill and I welcome its publication. Many points have been covered by colleagues, which I do not want to repeat, so I will just raise a few issues. I am very interested in the issue of mental health and well-being at work. There is evidence that modern lifestyles contribute to considerable stress and strain. My colleague, Deputy Deenihan, made a very interesting contribution on fitness and other such programmes in the workplace. It is important that this be taken into account. If people are under stress because of our modern lifestyle and the rat-race society, they will suffer from depression, health problems and possibly suicide and other attendant problems.

I welcome the provision in the Bill to deal with bullying and the growing awareness of its negative effects and the need for it to be addressed.

It is important that the Bill address the health and safety issues of people with disabilities. The visually impaired, hard of hearing and those with mobility problems have needs over and above those of people without such impairments and this should be a special focus of the Health and Safety Authority.

I welcome the provision in the Bill to protect whistleblowers from victimisation if they report dangers in the workplace. This is important.

Will the Minister of State consider the suggestion made in the House by many of my colleagues over the years to the effect that parliamentary questions should be allowed in respect of the Health and Safety Authority? We are talking about life and death matters. In the Minister of State's speech we heard the statistics on the number of people who die in the workplace. Deputy Gay Mitchell mentioned tardiness and the difficulty involved in obtaining responses. One way of obtaining responses is by way of parliamentary question. Where a life and death matter is brought to the attention of a Member of this House, it should be possible for that Member to table a parliamentary question to the Minister, even if it is only for information purposes. As the Minister of State well knows, this would put in train a process whereby action could be taken and awareness could be raised, such that issues would not be ignored.

I know the Health and Safety Authority is independent and operates outside the political arena, as should be the case, but the Minister should be able to obtain information from it and report back to the House thereon. This alone should be enough to promote action. I would like this to be debated.

There is an important provision in the Bill for a review of legislation. I would like to see it built in more firmly because technology is changing so quickly. We now have nanotechnology whereby microscopic computers can be inserted into one's skin to do all kinds of things. God only knows where it will lead. It is science fiction, but it is also science fact because it is actually happening today. All kinds of substances are being created. We must ensure there is a provision to allow for a constant review of legislation so it can be updated as required.

Will the Minister of State elaborate on the Health and Safety Authority's ability to carry out research? It is important that it can carry out research, the results of which could comprise part of its annual report.

There are many people from foreign countries working in Ireland and contributing to our economy. I have seen projections to the effect that we will have many more. They are all welcome. However, their coming here raises a language issue. Health and safety statements and warnings should be communicated through languages other than Gaeilge and Béarla so foreign workers will be able to read them. The Minister should take this on board because it could cause problems if an employee were involved in an accident because he or she could not read a safety notice. This is a simple matter but we must take it into account.

It should be incumbent on the Health and Safety Authority, the Department and society in general to constantly raise awareness of health and safety issues in the workplace. I know there are media advertisements on such issues and that awareness has increased, but an awful lot more needs to be done. The idea of the Fionn Mac Cumhaills who refuse to wear the safety hats or protective clothing because it is not cool is almost gone and many workers now insist on wearing safety equipment. However, some still believe it is not macho to wear safety equipment, including proper gloves and eye protection. This culture must be changed and it should be mandatory for workers to adhere to safety requirements. It should be second nature to them. It is important that awareness of health and safety issues is raised in the many forms of workplaces that exist, starting in schools and at home.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate, particularly for the very constructive manner in which it was conducted. On this occasion, I will use a considerably less formal approach in trying to address the issues raised.

As I stated in my opening remarks, the intention is that this legislation will improve considerably the safety and lot of the worker in the workplace. I thank the speakers from the other parties for their co-operation and commitment to this ideal. The provisions in the Bill will work towards the ideal and I am certainly open to amendments that will bring further benefits.

As always, the question of resources was raised. I never remember a Bill coming before the House that specifically provided for an exact amount of resources for anything. On this occasion, however, I am happy to report that there will be a 12% increase in the budget for the HSA next year. In addition, we were able to provide additional funding for the remainder of this year, which was important for a particular reason. The budget for this year is €14.336 million and there is an additional €266,000 for specific safety projects. To the best of my knowledge, that will encompass the idea Deputy Stanton had about research and other requirements of that nature.

I assure Deputies that I will approach Committee and Report Stages with an open mind. I was on the backbenches long enough to appreciate the value of Deputies' views. I also appreciate that people are prepared to be proactive and constructive in contributing to better legislation, which is, ultimately, what we all want from this process.

Deputy Hogan raised the issue of agency workers and the kind of additional onus that the Bill seems, in his view, to impose on employers. This has arisen from the experience of the HSA which frequently has enormous difficulty and, in fact, is unable to find an employer to pursue over a safety issue. It may well be possible that we can address some of the Deputy's concerns on Committee Stage. Ultimately, however the legislation has arisen because of prior experience of dealing with this matter.

I am also interested in the Deputy's concerns about the quality of training, which I will certainly follow up. It has been my experience, long before my recent ministerial appointment, that one element of training in particular, the SafePass course for the construction industry, is one that has gained a considerable level of recognition and a positive response from builders. One of my sons, who is a student, worked with a builder during the summer and was dispatched to do a SafePass course. He was not enthusiastic about it in advance but was impressed when he had spent a day attending it. Therefore, there are positive aspects but where there are negative experiences, such as the one the Deputy recounted, we need to address them. I will certainly raise it with the authorities, including FÁS. An element of the matter is probably addressed by the Bill's definition of a "competent person". We are in the business of increasing quality and that definition will assist in that regard.

Deputy Howlin expressed concerns about bullying in the workplace. My predecessor, Deputy Fahey, established an expert advisory group on bullying. I met the group's chairman yesterday and I understand that a considerable volume of work has been done. The group hopes to have its report ready in about three months. Initially, I considered delaying this legislation to try to encompass the expert group's proposals in it. However, having examined the amount of work that was done by my predecessor and the fact that it had been cleared by the Government last June, I felt that on balance it was better to proceed with this Bill and deal separately with the report of the advisory committee. If it requires legislation, I will propose that, but I am told that it may not do so.

Deputy Howlin also referred to the O'Hare report on public safety, about which I have answered a parliamentary question. My understanding was that the recommendation to which he referred was a minority recommendation for an overarching body dealing with public health and safety in all kinds of areas. Deputy Hogan also referred to the O'Hare report. I see considerable merit in it but, to be honest, I would not like to try to capture the responsibility from several other Departments. In many respects it could be impractical because the differences between the kinds of responsibilities and jobs involved could make it impossible. In so far as we can tease out the matter on Committee and Report Stages, we will examine what, if anything, can be done in that regard.

It could give the Minister of State a few extra euro.

Some people clearly have an understanding of what is proposed with regard to drug testing. I am surprised to find that there are partners and others who feel they have not been consulted because a wide consultation process was entered into by my predecessor in this regard. There are two choices. One can ignore that it is possible, in certain workplace situations, to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and be a danger to oneself and others. The other option is to face up to the fact that there are circumstances where workers may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and may pose a considerable risk to themselves, their co-workers and, in some circumstances, to a larger number of people. My intention is to address this serious problem regarding specific industrial sectors in a specific manner. There will be no question of random testing. All the kinds of safeguards referred to by Deputies Hogan, Ó Caoláin and others, will be incorporated. None of this will happen by regulation in advance of a complete examination of the implications. I intend to ensure that in no circumstances will an employer be empowered to abuse the provision which ultimately we hope to be able to incorporate in this legislation. I will also ensure that the regulations will extend only to those places of work where a considerable danger arises for workers or other members of the public. That is something about which we will have to go into great detail. In the event that it were to help the situation, I would have no difficulty in presenting the regulations before the appropriate committee where they can be discussed. There might be considerable value in doing so.

Deputy Eamon Ryan made an interesting point regarding the possibility of including exceptions in the legislation. I will examine the matter but I believe it would be difficult to do that. This Bill provides an enabling process so it would be difficult to have that narrowed in the legislation itself. I will look at how it could be done, however.

Deputy Howlin also queried the number of board members. I can assure him that the ICTU and IBEC representation will remain at three, as heretofore. The chief executive officer will be anex officio member and there will also be an appointee, who must be a civil servant from my Department. The increased number, which in any event is a modest increase, gives me an opportunity to widen representation on the board.

Deputy Howlin also referred to the Bill's application to the Defence Forces. The position heretofore has been that the 1989 Act does apply to the Defence Forces, except when they are on active service. I understand from the HSA that it is quite happy with how it has developed. When I met the chairman of the expert group on bullying yesterday, I was delighted to hear that a valuable code of practice has been drawn up by the Defence Forces and is in operation. Other codes of practice are useful in other sectors and will inform our debate and how we propose to go further in this regard.

I was encouraged by Deputy Eamon Ryan's approach and especially by his personal experience of running a small company. Some employers work flat out trying to run small businesses while keeping three or four people employed, and the last thing they want is a pile of paperwork. We appreciate that and it is reflected in the Bill. Where a company has three employees or fewer, the required provision is a code of practice. We hope that employers and employees will sit down together to agree a code of practice. By entering into that process, there will be a much greater awareness of the need to take care in the workplace and be cognisant of a wide range of issues, not just the traditional ones involving personal injury, but also stress, to which a number of speakers have referred. This code of practice will be sufficient and will be welcomed by small employers, including farmers. It will be a positive development.

At European level, the social partners have agreed a document which charts a way forward. When the European partners in Brussels manage to agree on something, it is a cause for celebration, so I look forward to reading that document when it becomes available.

I thank Deputy Dennehy for his support and for outlining his experience of working in a large industry where workers were exposed to a considerable degree of danger in many respects. He referred to the National Irish Safety Organisation, a relatively small voluntary body which does wonderful work. I presented its awards on Friday night but I was not very familiar with its work prior to that. One would have to be impressed at the pride people took in having their positive efforts in regard to health and welfare at work recognised at the awards ceremony. I was also impressed that it was done in co-operation with their colleagues from Northern Ireland and that a huge level of co-operation exists.

Deputy Dennehy was concerned about the legalese in the Bill. The HSA has undertaken to provide explanatory memoranda and other material to help people understand the regulations because, ultimately, unless they are understood, they cannot be implemented in the way we would wish.

Deputy Pat Breen referred to the ESB and other organisations which have great commitment to safety. It was the winner of the big award at the NISO function last week. Such a huge organisation has the resources, but it also has a challenge to harness these resources to achieve what it has in that regard. In regard to other employers, there will be a duty on them to comply with safety procedures on the site.

A number of speakers referred to penalties. Some said they should be bigger and some felt that perhaps they were making life difficult for small and medium industries in particular. Ultimately, neither the HSA nor the Oireachtas want to impose penalties in the context of the legislation. We want to create a climate which will result in far better practice. Of course, there must be an enforcement element. One of the striking elements of the Bill is that one will not be depending on 100 inspectors racing around the country and responding to complaints. The legislation transfers to individual employees and employers responsibility for their own safety and the safety of colleagues, which can be acted on, and the protection of the law will enable them to be key players in ensuring there is safety in the workplace. When we think about road safety, we probably think about the impact of enforcement. In this instance, however, we are introducing a new code in regard to the workplace which, effectively, gives everyone a central rolevis-à-vis compliance.

A number of Deputies, including Deputies Pat Breen and Howlin, referred to the liability on directors. As I said in my speech, managers and directors have been found guilty under the 1989 Act and penalised. This issue is clarified in the legislation because it was felt necessary to make clear to directors and managers their responsibility in this regard. Last year, the Law Reform Commission issued a consultative report on the subject of corporate manslaughter. As far as I recall, it was a draft report. It may well be that, arising from the final report, the Government will introduce corporate manslaughter legislation. It would not be appropriate to introduce it in this legislation, nor do I believe it would be the appropriate place to do so.

Deputy Gerard Murphy advocates co-operation with the school authorities in providing awareness and training to our young population. I confess, harking back to my previous life as a teacher, I tended to be somewhat aggravated when people sometimes suggested that everything could be remedied at school level. Of course, a certain amount can be done there, but teachers will always say they have difficulty trying to deal with myriad issues. On this subject, which is so fundamental, a considerable amount can be done at an early stage. I will talk to the HSA about what links can be established with education. I am cognisant of the fact that my former colleagues have reservations about having additional workloads dumped on them.

Deputy Upton and others drew attention to the level of non-compliance in the agricultural industry and the need for support for the farming community. One of the things people tend to forget is the level of isolation in which people in agriculture tend to work and the huge need for support and a level of awareness of the dangers that exist. Sadly, particularly recently, a high proportion of the casualties on farms have been very young children. The reality of a farm is that it is a working environment to which in general the family home is central. It is a fact of life that in many cases children are knocking about and awareness of the dangers is not always at the level it ought to be.

Deputy Broughan referred to the fact the legislation was brought before the House post the Tánaiste's move to the Department of Health and Children. In fairness, it went through Government last June but it has only arrived here now. He also referred to the role of the Judiciary, to which I referred in my speech, and which, by and large, is something we are quite pleased with recently. A positive aspect is the fact that the Judiciary has taken a very serious view of lapses in this whole area.

Deputy Ó Caoláin was among the Deputies who made the mistake of thinking I was gone mad, demanding random drug testing all over the place. I have already explained this. While it might be a somewhat contentious issue, it would be an act of cowardice to walk away from the reality. It is a huge issue which it is incumbent on us to address. He also referred to reasonable suspicion, which is something we can examine in the context of the regulations or in the context of the legislation. He also mentioned a penalty for employers who abuse this right, which we can examine.

Deputy Deenihan took a very interesting line in regard to the whole area of safety at work and lifestyle effects in terms of personal health and how it impacts on our capacity to work in a productive manner while ensuring safety in the workplace. It is an area we have not examined in the kind of detail we should. It is certainly something we will examine during Committee and Report Stages.

Deputy Gay Mitchell had specific questions on the construction phase of Luas and his dealings with HSA. I suspect from what I found out previously that the two sad and fatal accidents in question were probably initially adjudged to come within the road transport area which, in the first instance, would be a matter for the Garda. As he rightly pointed out, the whole thing was effectively a building site. Almost everyone in the House who had to drive through it would be aware it was very difficult to know exactly where the arrows were sending one. If one had the good fortune that the fellow in front was going in the right direction, it was a huge help. However, if one was first in line, it was very difficult. There were hazards which, unfortunately and sadly in this instance, resulted in road traffic fatalities, but these were begot in the building site. I will pursue the issues raised by Deputy Mitchell to see if there can be some progress in that regard.

He also made the point, as did Deputy Stanton, that Members of the House do not have the facility to question the Minister in regard to HSA issues. I will have no difficulty if this is changed. In general, democracy is better served if questions are answered publicly and openly. In this particular area, the more frequently publicity is visited on it, the better for health and safety generally in the country. There is a provision in the Bill which requires the CEO of the HSA to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts or any other Oireachtas committee. This is a new provision which will go a considerable way towards addressing the concerns of Deputies.

It is for the privileged few.

That may be the case. If there is a way in which to do it, I will have no difficulty answering questions. The point was made fairly that the HSA needs to be seen to be very independent of the political process, which is the only slight concern I have. There are issues which are best teased out in the public forum of this Chamber or the other Chamber. Failing that, the committees are not a bad place to do so.

In regard to road traffic problems, in general, the Garda take precedence over all other agencies. They have an agreement with the HSA and a code of practice which operates quite well in most instances. It is interesting to hear the experience of Deputy Mitchell and if it is possible to improve matters we will certainly do so.

Deputy Gregory raised an issue with regard to ministerial demarcation which is relevant to health and safety and important to his constituents and others. I will ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, if he can address this matter.

Deputy Connolly referred to prevention rather than cure being a good way to proceed. He also mentioned child care, an area to which the rest of us had not adverted, and the impact of the lack of same on worker stress. This is an issue which must be considered. There are costs associated with it which are being addressed by various Ministers, although many would say not as quickly as they should be. It is undoubtedly an area which can potentially create considerable stress.

Deputy Connolly also said that fines should be realistic and significant enough to deter people. Depending on the circumstances and size of a company, a fine of €1,000 may either be significant or minor enough to encourage safety short-cuts because it is an insufficient deterrent. It is a difficult balance to strike but we will strive to do so. Deputy Connolly made the fair point that the value of savings arising from good practice in health and safety is considerable. He welcomed the name and shame provisions and advocated a corresponding name and praise scheme. The Department will consider such a provision in terms of its discussions with NISO and the HSA.

I thank everybody who has contributed to the debate and look forward to further fruitful examination on Committee and Report Stages.

Question put and agreed to.