Companies may be liable for workplace suicides, forum told


IRISH EMPLOYERS could face compensation claims from the families of victims of occupation-related suicide if a plan being considered by the European Health and Safety Agency is put in place.

He said since the publication of a recent study showing a very high level of work-related suicides by French Telecom workers, there was an urgency about getting this information. "Personally, I favour a system such as they have in Japan where the families are compensated for the suicide of a relative, and the debate has already started in this organisation and in the commission and some of the member states," he said.

He described the results of the French study as "alarming" but said so far there was little information on the subject as member states were not gathering statistics.

Dr Takala told a press conference at the organisation's annual conference in Bilbao that while the global recession had led to a downturn in the number of work-related deaths and accidents, there were 167,000 European workers a year dying of work-related diseases.

"That is 457 deaths a day but they do not show up, no more than suicide figures, in the official returns which showed 5,720 deaths. These, of course, do not take into account deaths from heart conditions and other stress-related illnesses which cause workers to die," he said.

He estimated the collapse in the construction sector in countries including Ireland and Spain had reduced the number of officially reported deaths at work (they dropped by 10-15 per cent in the last year because so many fatalities happened in that sector).

The agency, he said, was facing a new challenge in how to prevent work accidents and deaths in the companies making people redundant. "The workers remaining behind are faced with having to do extra work and working longer hours, and I would urge them to look at the burdens being placed on those left in work because of the problems such reorganisations cause," he said.

Dr Takala praised the Spanish authorities whose minister for labour and immigration, Celestino Corbacho, announced a one-third increase in inspection rates on the construction, farming and textile industries because of the downturn.

Sweden's minister for labour, Svenott Littorin, said it had to be conveyed to employers that health and safety at work was a wise investment. "If we are to get out of the current recession we will need as many people as possible working to pay the pensions and social welfare payments of the future . . .," he said.