14 December 2006 Edition

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Workplace deaths - Assembly hears Sinn Féin proposals

McLaughlin outlines measures to reduce workplace deaths

Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin MLA outlined a number of measures to help reduce workplace deaths, in a debate in the Six County Assembly last Tuesday on corporate manslaughter. He also highlighted the huge underreporting of deaths in the workplace.
Following the debate, McLaughlin expressed disappointment that unionist politicians refused to support a Sinn Féin amendment calling for the removal of Crown immunity from prosecution.
Sinn Féin East Derry MLA Francie Brolly also spoke on the death of his father, Joe Brolly, at the age of 57 on a construction site.
Mitchel McLaughlin said that Sinn Féin had brought forward an amendment to support and strengthen the motion because draft Westminster legislation is substandard in important respects and fails to comprehensively address work-related deaths.
In the 12-month period to March 2005, 88 people lost their lives in work related accidents in Ireland – 73 in the South and 15 in the North.
McLaughlin said that Sinn Féin do not believe that there are any acceptable excuses for failure to meet worker health and safety standards and obligations under the law. He proposed the following measures:
  • The establishment of a universal All-Ireland Commission on Health, Welfare and Safety at Work, centrally involving the Health and Safety Agency in the South and Health and Safety Executive in the North.
  • The initiation of an all-island Workplace Health Strategy to reduce and remove aspects of ill-health arising from unsafe work practices.
  • Immediate steps to tackle the shortage of Health and Safety inspectors, as this has been identified as a major factor hindering the authorities’ ability to carry out inspection and enforcement functions. This would require an injection of sufficient resources to enable the Health and Safety Executive to fulfil its responsibilities under strengthened worker health and safety legislation.
  • The provision of government grant-aid for trade union safety training on a sectoral basis.
  • A legal obligation on employers to file an agreed programme of general health and safety training with the Health and Safety Executive – with specific requirements depending on the substances and/or processes used in the workplace.
  • The introduction of a mandatory safety training period with pay in the first weeks of employment, supported by a programme of continuing refresher courses.
  • The introduction of regulations obliging employers to notify the Health and Safety Executive of any events at a workplace, including exposure to noxious substances, that result in worker absences of more than three consecutive days – comparable to the existing obligation to report accidents, as provided for under Part X and Schedule 12 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 1993 in the South.
  • Support for the conclusion of an International Convention against Asbestos Production and Use.

Speaking in the Assembly, McLaughlin said: “Although there is widespread support for many of the changes proposed in the British Government’s draft legislation in relation to the accountability of ‘companies’, there is a failure to give sufficient thought and attention to the accountability of company directors. And even if it did comprehensively address these issues, it is not proposed that similar protections would apply to the North of Ireland. Why not?
“Proposals in the Westminster Draft Bill to provide Crown Agencies immunity from prosecution for the offence of corporate killing should be no part of any legislation that applies to workers’ rights here. All bodies – government or corporate – should be liable to prosecution if culpability or neglect can be proven.
“Corporate manslaughter legislation, already in place in many countries, is a key tool in the battle to reduce workplace accidents and fatalities,” he said.

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