I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This Bill will improve the existing laws and should, I hope, reduce the incidence of accidents in industry. It is an important Bill, therefore, in so far as it may help to reduce the suffering and losses of the victims of industrial accidents as well as helping to reduce the consequential economic costs to the community.
I have considered the question of the replacement of the Factories Act, 1955, but I have decided that the balance of advantage, at present, lies in the improvement of the existing law.
The enabling provisions of the 1955 Act have been used to augment the primary law by way of regulations; these have prescribed very detailed safety requirements for some industrial sectors and for some specific materials. In all, 82 regulations have been made which, taken in conjunction with the terms of the Act, result in a comprehensive piece of safety law which is much more up to the minute than the date of the Act, namely, 1955 would suggest. However, changing technology and added knowledge as to safety practices dictate that some additions and changes to the primary legislation are now needed to help secure the safety, health and welfare of the persons who fall within its ambit.
This Bill, while it brings in some innovative features, is nevertheless mainly concerned with improvements in existing legislation. In considering the area generally, I have taken account of developments elsewhere. Our membership of the EEC has brought closer contact with European developments and thinking in this area of safety, health and welfare. A draft Council resolution on a Community action programme on safety and health at work is being discussed in Brussels by a working party on social questions. Amongst the specific steps the draft council resolution mentions is the incorporation of safety features into the various stages of design, production and operation of plant. In the Bill I am proposing to place a statutory obligation on suppliers of plant to ensure such plant is provided with all necessary safeguards for its safe operation prior to its being supplied. This, I hope, will ensure that safety features will be incorporated at the most effective and economical time, that is, at the design and manufacturing stages.
We have, of course, been associated with safety matters at international level since joining the ILO. The ILO has for very many years been concerned with safety, health and welfare of workers and we have ratified 15 conventions in these matters. In this Bill I am providing that if it is decided to ratify further conventions in these areas we will be enabled to do so without introducing further primary legislation. I am proposing that, with the assent of both Houses, the safety Acts may be amended by order so as to comply with any international obligations relating to safety, health and welfare of workers covered by these Acts which we may decide to assume.
I now come to the changes in existing law proposed in this Bill. In general, the Bill retains the essential provision of the 1955 Act which is that the occupier of a particular factory is responsible for the safety of those employed in it. I think it would be wrong to maintain that the obligation for ensuring safety at work rests solely with occupiers. Others bear a responsibility too. I have already mentioned a new feature which this Bill introduces, namely, the placing of an obligation on suppliers of plant to ensure that it has all the necessary safeguards for its safe operation. But the role the worker himself has to play in his own safety and in that of his colleagues is also of prime importance. Safety is one area where the interests of employer and worker should coincide. Workers have an obvious interest in it, and employers have an interest both from the humanitarian and efficiency points of view. In the National Industrial Safety Organisation this shared interest is evident from the membership of this voluntary body which includes employers, trade unions and insurance companies. It is, of course, grant-aided by my Department and is essentially concerned with the promotion of safety, working in harmony with the Department's officials.
A disappointing feature of the 1955 Act in operation has been the limited extent to which workers have availed of their rights to set up safety committees. At present there are just over 250 safety committees operating in a total of 18,000 premises on the Factories Register. It is generally agreed that active safety committees tend to reduce preventable accidents and can be a highly effective method of promoting safety at work. It is evident, however, from the small number of these committees established and the ineffectiveness of some of them that the establishment of safety committees on a voluntary basis has not worked in its present setting. I am introducing accordingly, a radical new approach to this question and I will return to this point later.
As I have already said, research into many industrial activities has shown up some potentially injurious or unhealthy aspects. For instance, a great deal more is now known about the effects of excessive noise on health than was the case heretofore. Much more is also known about the effects of toxic, flammable, corrosive or asphyxiant substances and the Bill will allow me to make regulations in the light of this knowledge.
I also propose changes in the provisions of the Factories Act in relation to the protection of eyes, not only those of workers immediately engaged on particular processes, but also of those who work in the vicinity of, or who are likely to be affected by, such processes.
The hazards of fire, especially in relation to modern materials and processes are highlighted occasionally by tragic accidents, and the provisions relating to fire safety, in particular those relating to fire alarms and fire drills, will be improved considerably.
It sometimes happens also that in the course of their inspections, the inspectors of my Department come across activities the nature of which is such that they involve a risk of serious injury. Up to now it has been necessary to go through the courts before such activity could be stopped. Inevitably, the dangerous activity could proceed until the court had decided otherwise. I now propose to change this position by taking the power to stop a dangerous activity immediately it comes to notice if it is considered necessary. My decision can subsequently be challenged in the court. There are other smaller changes which I will detail as I go through the Bill.
Deputies will note that while the Bill is essentially an amendment of the Factories Act, 1955, I have decided to change the title to Safety in Industry Bill, which more accurately describes its main objectives.
As to commencement, it is my intention to bring this Bill into law as soon as possible, but the provisions of section 1, which are normal provisions in legislation, will allow me to introduce different provisions at different times if this should prove desirable.
I propose a few changes in the interpretations, in particular, defining what is meant by plant and by "specified premises", which includes those premises not specifically factories but to which certain provisions of the Acts apply. I also propose to amend the interpretation of "factory" to include types of premises not previously covered, for example, premises where cattle or poultry are being killed, for packing or otherwise.
I have already mentioned the power proposed in section 4 of the Bill to amend the Acts by order to comply with international obligations. I have also included in this section a provision for amending the interpretation of "factory" in the same way.
In section 5, I propose taking power, as I have said earlier, to make regulations regarding noise and other pollutants about whose effects on workers' health we have learned a great deal in the last few years.
Section 6 would make provision similar to that in recent legislation for the serving of documents.
Section 7 of the Bill provides for repeals. In the case of the proposal to repeal sections 45 (18) and 45 (19) of the 1955 Act, in relation to means of escape in case of fire, I consider it essential that all factories irrespective of size, should have certificates of escape in case of fire, and in section 22 of the Bill I propose to further amend the provisions of section 45 of the 1955 Act to provide for examining and testing fire warning systems.
I also consider it unnecessary to distinguish between factories constructed before and after the commencement of section 47 of the 1955 Factories Act with regard to other fire safety provisions and so have provided for repeal of section 47 (3) and of part of 47 (4) of that Act.
The discriminatory provisions of section 68 of the 1955 Act, which prohibit the employment of female young persons where certain processes are carried on, are no longer desirable or necessary and these I propose to repeal.
Section 73 of the 1955 Act deals with safety committees, and I propose —as I have already said—to replace it by several new sections.
Section 119 (2) of the 1955 Act which relates to notification of the introduction of mechanical power to a factory, is now unnecessary in view of the small number of factories not now using mechanical power and I propose to repeal it.
Both sections 26 (2) and 86 (3) of the 1955 Act contain now unnecessary sex-discriminatory provisions relating to males and females respectively which I propose to delete.
Section 8 of the Bill sets out in more detail the general obligation on workers to protect their own and other workers' health. As I have already mentioned, other people besides occupiers have a responsibility in safety matters and I should point out that, in line with such thinking, it would be an offence under section 100 of the Factories Act, 1955 for any worker not to have reasonable regard for safety in the workplace.
I have already mentioned the proposed new provision in section 9 of the Bill regarding duties of those who supply plant for use at work. This is a new provision in an area that is likely to increase in importance in future years—a type of user protection—and I am taking power to make regulations setting down standards of design and construction of plant where I consider it necessary.
In section 10 of the Bill I propose to provide that if there is an accident involving plant or machinery I may require an examination of the plant or machine to be carried out and to have a report submitted.
If I am not satisfied as to the examination or report I propose to take power to have a re-examination or test made of the plant or part of it.
I have provided in section 11 of the Bill for the serving of prohibition notices in the case of particularly dangerous activities. It is little consolation to an injured worker to know that an occupier who permits a practice to continue, knowing it to be hazardous, is going to be prosecuted and fined after the damage has been done, so a provision is necessary which enables the shutdown of such an activity while allowing recourse to the courts by both the occupier and the Minister.
In section 12, I propose to amend slightly the provision in section 37 of the Principal Act relating to safe access and egress, and lowering the height, from ten feet to two metres, at which handholds and footholds must be provided. Experience has shown that quite serious injury can be incurred by falling from a height of less than ten feet.
Section 13 is a new provision which would lay a specific duty on occupiers to reduce the level or duration of sound where it might result in injury to the employees and would allow me after consultation with the Minister for Health to make regulations setting limits on such level or duration in particular circumstances.
Section 14 would simply add to section 12 of the Principal Act the requirement that the method of providing the heating in factories should not be likely to constitute a fire hazard, or to result in injurious or offensive fumes being released into the workroom.
It is important, I think, to ensure that facilities other than those directly relating to work are provided. Meal-taking facilities fall into this category and I am setting down in section 15 of the Bill minimum requirements in certain premises where more than ten persons are employed.
In section 16 of the Bill I have set down improved minimum facilities which should be provided for washing; from now on, these facilities should include either hot and cold water or warm water.
Section 17 proposes to extend a modified section 32 of the Principal Act to all machines, and includes boilers, steam and air receivers and lifting machines.
In section 18 I propose to confine section 31 of the Principal Act, relating to cleaning of machinery, to young persons only, rather than to women and young persons as heretofore. This section would also provide for a safe system of work and for knowledge of that system to be communicated to the person doing the cleaning.
Damage to eyes is not confined to those directly involved in potentially dangerous processes—so in section 19 I propose to amend section 60 of the Principal Act to ensure that the eyes of other persons employed and liable to injury will also be protected.
Similarly in section 20 I propose to amend section 58 of the Principal Act which is designed to protect anyone working on the premises from the harmful effects of dust and fumes. However, this amendment is not enough I feel, and I have also in section 21 of the Bill proposed the amendment of section 38 of the Principal Act which deals with precautions where dangerous fumes are liable to be present. There will obviously be situations where it will not be possible to remove such fumes and it will be necessary to provide breathing apparatus and suitable harness and ropes.
I also feel we need to update our fire safety measures; by virtue of section 22 of the Bill I now propose to apply the measures mentioned in section 45 of the Principal Act to any factory; likewise the provisions of section 47 (2) of that Act, in relation to the construction of doors. Section 22 of the Bill would also provide that where a sanitary authority, charged with certifying that a factory is provided with the necessary means of escape in case of fire, consider that alterations to the factory are needed before a certificate is given, they shall notify the applicant for such certification and the Minister of what is required, and of the time period in which the work is to be completed.
Section 23 proposes a modification of section 48 of the Principal Act; in particular it would apply that section to any factory where more than 20 persons are employed. It would also provide that fire drill be held at fixed intervals and that records of fire drills be attached to the general register.
Section 24 proposes to extend the following amended sections of the Principal Act to docks, wharves, quays and warehouses: section 32 which relates to training and supervision of persons working at machines and section 45 which relates to means of escape in case of fire and means of fire warnings and section 58 which relates to dust and fumes.
Section 24 of the Bill also proposes a modification of section 83 (3) of the 1955 Act by applying the section to all persons working at all machines.
Section 25 of the Bill proposes an amendment of section 36 of the Principal Act. It would require that floors, steps and so on, be kept in a non-slippery condition. It would also require that, three years from the commencement of the section, the safe working load of any suspended floor must be displayed on a notice nearby.
Section 26 of the Bill is new, in that it provides that working conditions in the workplace will be free from wet and dampness. There is at present no provision prohibiting leaking roofs and damp walls which, apart from constituting a hazard in relation to electrical equipment, also seriously affect the quality of the surroundings in which work is carried on and are a danger to the health and wellbeing of the workers. Workers are entitled to proper conditions in the work place and leaking roofs or damp walls should not have to be tolerated as they are an affront to the dignity of the workers. We as a society should not condone or tolerate inhuman or substandard working conditions.
Section 27 requires that fire-fighting equipment, sufficient for fighting initially an outbreak of fire, be provided. This new section would also enable the Minister to make regulations, after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, prescribing the type of equipment to be used and providing for regular testing of the equipment; for means of alerting the local fire brigade to be installed and for ensuring that adequate numbers of persons are familiar with its use. While the main purpose of the Factories Act, 1955, is undoubtedly to ensure the safety of workers and in case of fire to ensure their speedy evacuation, nevertheless, the provision of fire-fighting equipment to deal with an initial outbreak, particularly where highly flammable or explosive materials are used, is considered to be essential—for instance, it may be necessary just to clear an escape route.
Section 28 of the Bill is new. It refers to an asphyxiant, toxic, corrosive or highly flammable substance or one which is a "regulated" substance, that is, one which is a substance to which the section is applied. The occupier of a premises where such a dangerous substance is present would be required to post a notice to this effect setting out the safety precautions to be taken in using the substance, and the arrangements in case of injury or fire.
It would also empower the Minister to make safety regulations regarding the use of the substance, and would provide for alarm systems and for investigations for the purpose of assessing the risk of injury, if any, to persons employed. Section 29 of the Bill proposes an amendment of section 35 of the Principal Act. It sets out in more detail the testing periods and training and signalling precautions to be taken when using cranes and other lifting machines.
Section 30 of the Bill proposes to provide that a person who, in making an examination—required by sections 33, 34 and 35 of the Principal Act— of hoists, lifts, cranes, lifting machines, chains, ropes and other lifting tackle, finds a need for repairs to ensure its safe use, must notify the occupier and the Minister accordingly. It would also require the examination and test, by a competent person, of any lift or hoist before it is taken into use. A certificate of its safe working load would also be required.
Section 31 of the Bill proposes to amend slightly section 29 of the Principal Act regarding fixed vessels containing liquids or other substances and is designed to ensure that they are sufficiently well protected to prevent any person from falling into them.
Section 32 of the Bill proposes to amend slightly section 40 of the Principal Act which relates to steam boilers. It requires that boilers should not be used until the statutorily required examination, due every 14 months, has taken place and would also require that Part II of such examination, when steam in the boiler is raised, will be carried out within three months of Part I of the examination, which is done when the boiler is cold.
Section 33 of the Bill proposes to amend section 41 of the Principal Act. It would require the examination of any new or previously used steam receiver brought into use in a factory for the first time and the certification of the maximum permissible working pressure. Where the maximum permissible pressure has been reduced or repairs are required for its safe working, a copy of the report would be required to be sent to the Minister.
Section 34 of the Bill is designed to ensure that air receivers are properly tested before being brought into use at a factory and has requirements similar to those in section 33 of the Bill.
Section 35 of the Bill proposes to amend slightly section 74 of the Principal Act to provide that absence from work and not loss of wages should be the criterion for notification of an accident. In the past some accidents may have escaped notification because even though there was absence from work due to the accident there may have been no loss of wages.
The next part of the Bill relates to safety committees, safety representatives, safety delegates and safety statements. As Deputies may be aware, the relevant provision in the old Act was not very successful in achieving the appointment of safety committees. I feel that the time has now come when a more radical approach to raising safety consciousness must be attempted. For this reason I have provided in the Bill for the appointment by workers of safety representatives where not more than 20 are employed or safety committees in any other case. Where the workers fail to do so, however, I propose to place an onus on occupiers to appoint the committees or representatives. I would hope that the possibility of the latter happening would act as an incentive to workers to appoint the representatives or committees themselves. Workers have not in the past shown sufficient interest in these matters and perhaps workers and their organisations may now be encouraged to get involved at shop floor level in the positive aspect of safety.
In section 36 of the Bill I propose that in premises where not more than 20 workers are employed they may appoint a safety representative, unless a safety committee is in office. The occupier is to consult with the representative to ensure co-operation in safety, health and welfare matters, as provided by legislation, and is also to consider any representations made to him in those matters. The safety representative may accompany the inspector on a tour of duty of the premises other than one specifically to investigate an accident.
Section 37 of the Bill proposes that in a premises where workers are employed they may appoint a safety committee of not less than three or more than ten, but not to exceed more than one for every 20 persons employed. Existing committees under section 73 of the Principal Act would be deemed to have been appointed under the new provisions even if their numbers exceed the new limits. The functions of the occupier and committee are similar to those proposed in section 36 of the Bill and the occupier would be entitled to be present or represented at committee meetings. Committees may appoint a safety delegate to make representations on their behalf and to accompany an inspector. Arrangements for meetings of the safety committee are to be the subject of consultation with the occupier and subject to limitations. Meetings may be held in normal working hours, without loss of pay.
In section 38 I propose that if the workers fail after six months to appoint a safety representative or a committee, an obligation is placed on the occupier to make appointments.
Section 39 of the Bill is new. It would provide that the Minister may cause an investigation to be carried out by an inspector, if a safety representative or safety committee request it. The outcome of such investigation may be communicated to the committee, representative or safety officer.
Section 40 is also new. It would require an occupier to prepare a statement of the manner in which he proposes to secure the health and safety of persons employed. It would also provide that the Minister may specify by regulation the matters to be included in the statement. If a statement is inadequate the revision of such a statement may be required. It is hoped that the preparation of a safety statement would prompt managements to crystallise their own attitudes towards safety matters, as well as raising safety consciousness amongst employees.
By section 41 of the Bill I propose to extend the meaning in section 2 of the Principal Act of the term "work of engineering construction" and to revise the definition of "young person". I also propose extending the meaning of "factory" in section 3 of the Principal Act to include, where appropriate, AnCO training centres.
The purpose of section 42 of the Bill is to apply to electrical stations the amended section 37 of the Principal Act, which deals with safe work-places and means of access.
Section 43 of the Bill proposes to amend section 39 of the Principal Act which applies precautions with respect to explosive or flammable dust, gas or vapour, by including "liquid" along with "gas or vapour"; however, where the plant is installed in the open air, the provisions would not apply to gas or vapour under pressure. Section 43 would also provide for the amendment of section 72 of the Principal Act and would permit the Minister to allow persons other than the State Chemist to conduct analyses of samples. It would also make it an offence for a person to disclose the results of such anlyses to persons other than the Minister.
Section 44 proposes to extend section 88 of the 1955 Act which deals with building operations, and section 89 of that Act which deals with works of engineering construction, to provide that specialist organisations who design and control contracts for building operations and works of engineering construction should also be regarded as occupiers and thus share responsibility for the safety of persons employed.
In section 45 I intend to remove any legal doubt regarding the Minister's right of appeal to the Circuit Court from the decision of a District Court.
Section 46 proposes to amend section 112 of the Principal Act. Amendment is necessary in view of the raising of the school-leaving age to 15 years and would ensure that, in the event of a further raising of that age, it will not be necessary to amend these Acts. It is thus a more flexible definition than the one used previously.
Section 47 of the Bill proposes to amend section 120 of the Principal Act to provide for amendments or extensions by other enactments. This would ensure that abstracts required to be posted under that section—120— would also contain amendments introduced by this Bill or any later legislation.
Section 48 of the Bill would give legal effect to the metric conversions in the Schedule to this Bill. The metric equivalents of the various imperial measurements in the Principal Act are set out in the Schedule.
Section 49 of the Bill would amend the Third Schedule to the Principal Act relating to the making of special regulations to provide that it will not be necessary to republish draft regulations where minor amendments are involved.
Section 50 of the Bill provides for the amendment of section 127 of the Principal Act by making formal provision for payment of remuneration or allowances to the chairman of the advisory council with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service.
Section 51 is new. It would provide for the designation by the Minister of one of his officers, who is a registered medical practitioner, as industrial medical adviser and specifies that he must be a specialist in, with experience of, occupational medicine. It also sets out his powers and duties.
As we learn more about the effects on workers' health of various processes and working conditions, the need for specialised medical advice in this area increases. I should mention that I have already an industrial medical adviser on my staff; this new provision would define his statutory functions.
Section 52 of the Bill proposes to permit the Minister to allow registered medical practitioners, other than those appointed as certifying doctors under the Principal Act, to medically examine young persons and to certify them as fit for a particular type of work.
Section 53 of the Bill proposes to amend the fee payable to medical practitioners who notify the Minister of a case of an industrial disease as provided under section 76 of the Principal Act. It would permit also further fee amendments with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service.
Section 54 is new and would enable an inspector to take, in a factory, any samples, photographs, measurements and so on which he thinks necessary for carrying out the provisions of the Acts. The experience of the industrial inspectorate of my Department has been that the power to take samples is needed to enable them properly to carry out their duties under the Acts.
Section 55 is new and would enable the disclosure to a safety representative, safety committee, safety delegate or safety officer of any fact or matter which the Minister considers relevant to the safety, health and welfare of persons employed and would provide that such disclosure shall enjoy qualified privilege.
If we are serious about involving workers in their own safety, we must give to them, or to their representatives, the sort of information which will enable them to become involved properly in safety matters; without the provisions of such information, we cannot expect their participation, hence the provision of this section.
Section 56 would allow the initiation of proceedings for an offence under the Acts within one year after it has been committed, rather than the usual six months, as the offence may not come to light within a period sufficient to allow it to be prosecuted within six months.
Section 57, the last section of the Bill, provides for increases in the maximum penalties for offences under the Acts. It would permit also further increases by order, rather than by amendment of the Principal Act.
It is right that I comment on the incidence of industrial accidents in Ireland. It is difficult to draw a direct comparison with other countries as different bases are used to determine industrial accidents. However, taking this reservation into consideration there is no evidence that Irish workers are any more accident prone than are other workers and by international standards our record compares reasonably well.
One statistic that is indisputable is the incidence of fatalities. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the increase in this respect from 15 deaths in 1976 to 22 deaths in 1977. These figures give ground for concern. Between 1969 and 1975, 164 workers died as a result of accidents at work in this part of the country while in Northern Ireland the number was 112. This comparison was within work forces of approximately the same size. The comparisons of notified accidents in England, Northern Ireland and Ireland for the latest years are as follows: England, 36 per 1,000 employed; Northern Ireland 27 per 1,000 employed and Ireland 19 per 1,000 employed.
As I mentioned at the beginning I have considered the question of replacement of the Factories Act, 1955, and decided, on balance, that the advantage at present lies in the improvement of existing legislation. I am of course open to receive suggestions on any aspects of the Bill and if they appear to have general support I would hope to respond favourably to them. In that spirit therefore, and having regard to the positive improvements indicated in the proposals in the Bill. I commend it to the House.