Thursday, 11 March 2004

Questions (3)

Seán Crowe


3 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of workers killed in work related accidents in 2003; the reason for the delay in the bringing forward of legislation to strengthen the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989; and when legislation will be brought forward to provide for the offence of corporate manslaughter in view of the unacceptable level of workplace deaths. [8149/04]

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Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

The number of workers killed in workplace accidents in 2003 is 56, or three per 100,000 workers. While any workplace fatality is one too many, worker fatality rates have been steadily falling to the extent that the rate per 100,000 workers is now 45% lower than in 1995.

Legislative proposals to repeal and amend the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 are at present the subject of legal drafting by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. Drafting is at an advanced stage of development. However, it involves a detailed revision of the current legislative framework dealing with occupational health and safety and is a long and complicated process. There is ongoing consultation between officials of my Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and I expect to be in a position to introduce a Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill in April.

The Law Reform Commission published a consultation paper on corporate killing in October last. The Commission recommends that a new offence of corporate killing be established which would be prosecuted on indictment, without exclusion of any entity whether incorporated or not. The offence would apply to acts or omissions of a high managerial agent, which would be treated as those of the undertaking. This is much wider than in the context of workplace safety.

To give practical effect to these recommendations, I am taking the opportunity to provide for the creation of this new offence in law in the Bill on occupational health and safety now being prepared. This will have to be subject to the final views of the Law Reform Commission when its consultation process is complete and also subject to the advice of the Attorney General. My Department is in consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and I hope it will be possible to include an appropriate provision in the new Bill.

Many people will say these deaths could have been avoided. The tiny sums of money given to the families of those who have died, particularly in construction accidents, have been an insult. There is a view that if the legislation had not been delayed, many of these accidents could have been avoided.

I wish to ask the Minister of State about construction related deaths, of which there were 19 last year and six to date this year. Studies by the Health and Safety Authority and the HSE have revealed that a significant proportion of clients, designers and project supervisors are failing to meet their statutory obligations. Proposed new construction regulations, which would place a range of new responsibilities on clients and supervisors have been approved by the Health and Safety Authority and its construction advisory committee, which included trade union representatives. The trade union movement and others are concerned that the Minister of State is planning to roll back on those proposed regulations as a result of coming under some political pressure from vested interests, including professional bodies such as the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, the Association of Consulting Engineers and the society of chartered supervisors. There is a belief that they wish to stonewall this legislation.

Will the Minister of State outline exactly what was discussed when he met these professional bodies on this matter? Did he make any commitments to roll back on proposed legislation? Will he state categorically that he does not intend to roll back on proposed construction regulations as approved by the Health and Safety Authority?

The level of fatalities in the construction industry, in particular, is a cause of great concern. Despite considerable effort being made by the partnership involved — management and unions in the construction sector — those fatalities continue. I am intent on introducing legislation, which will ensure people in the design, architectural and consulting engineering sectors have an important part to play in health and safety. We must have a joined-up system when it comes to health and safety involving the architectural, design and consulting engineering sectors. I recently met representatives of the organisations mentioned by the Deputy.

It is my intention to ensure we have effective legislation. We do not want legislation, which will cause bureaucratic blockages or difficulties for any sector. The objective must be to ensure that everybody involved in the construction sector should be under the health and safety legislative banner. That is my intention, and I will not roll back on anything.

I am prepared to listen to the case being put as to the type of legislation. Discussions are ongoing between the representative organisations and the management of the Health and Safety Authority to ensure we come up with the best formula which will be acceptable to everybody. I am particularly concerned about mobile structures where we have seen a number of fatalities in the past 12 months. It gives rise to serious concern and we propose to address that issue in the legislation.