National conference hears call for employers to focus on occupational health

Tuesday 28th November

Occupational health must become more of a focus for employers according to speakers at today’s National Safety Representative Conference in Croke Park, hosted by the Health and Safety Authority. Over 250 conference delegates heard that worker participation is the key to safe and healthy workplaces and those organisations with active safety representatives tend to be safer and healthier for everyone.

While the physical safety of employees is clearly important, occupational illnesses are becoming more and more prevalent in Ireland and across the EU and must be addressed. In 2015, an estimated 41,247 workers in Ireland suffered from a work-related illness and over 912,595 days of work were lost. Over the period 2002-2013 the two largest categories of work-related illnesses (musculoskeletal disorders and stress, anxiety and depression) accounted for 68% of work-related illnesses in Ireland.

Martin O’Halloran, Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Authority said: “Safe and healthy workplaces don’t just happen, they’re created through the commitment and dedication of workers and employers. Our inspectors see first-hand the difference an effective safety representative can make in any organisation. The best way to get workers to follow safe work procedures is to get them involved in the development and review of those procedures. If workers feel that their opinions are valued and considered, they are much more likely to follow the processes when they are being implemented.“

Speaking about the importance of occupational health Martin O’Halloran said: “In many workplaces, the focus has traditionally been on physical safety but with the growth in occupational illnesses there is a need to broaden that mind set and include the area of work-related illnesses. The Health and Safety Authority has lots of information and guidance to help.”

Frank Vaughan of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said the conference was welcomed by Congress. “The evidence is clear that workplaces with active safety representatives, selected by the workers, are safer and healthier. Congress wants to encourage more people to take on the role in all sectors and to work constructively with employers to ensure that everyone gets home safe and well after their day’s work”.

Today’s National Safety Representative Conference was attended by safety representatives from a range of industry sectors. With participation from Congress, Ibec and specialists from the Health and Safety Authority, speakers covered a variety of topics including chemical safety, asbestos, ergonomics, musculoskeletal disorders and psychosocial hazards such as work-related stress. A representative from the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSE NI) shared their experience.