A “blitz”of safety inspections has been launched at docks and ports around Ireland in response to concerns about five workplace deaths since the start of last year.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) started the unannounced inspections on Monday morning, days after the latest serious accident at Dublin Port.
It is understood a Moldovan person found in a skip with crush injuries at Dublin Port on Monday, September 30th, remains critically ill in the intensive care unit at the Mater hospital.
The HSA said there were five recorded workplace deaths at ports and docks countrywide since January 2018. Three of these were at Dublin Port, one was at Rosslare Ferryport and one at Waterford.
The latest accidental death was that of father-of-four Nicholas “Nicky” Collier, a Dublin truck driver, who died on August 14th after he was struck by a container-handling machine as he was checking a refrigerated unit. Both the Garda and the HSA launched investigations into Mr Collier’s death.
Sources have confirmed that a freshly-launched “inspection blitz” of ports and docks around the country is directly connected to the number of fatalities over the past two years. It is expected to last around two weeks.
There are 13 recognised port companies in the Republic: Dublin Port, Port of Cork, Shannon Foynes, Rosslare Europort, Bantry, Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Dundalk, Greenore, New Ross, Galway, Waterford and Wicklow.
Michael Whelan, an International Transport Federation trade union inspector at Dublin Port, said the number of deaths at Irish ports and docks in recent years was "outrageous".
“Seafarers and dockers’ lives are being repeatedly put at risk due to continually unsafe conditions,” he said. “They say agriculture and construction have the highest death rates, but the truth of the matter is there are relatively few people working in the ports, so the percentage death rate of port workers is right up there.”
He said key problems were a lack of training, regulations and a “fractured” workforce.
“There has been a massive change in dockland culture since around 1995 – years ago it was full of families working together and working directly for the ports. With the automation of the industry, the environments have become very heavily mechanised, workers come from far and wide, it is more fractured, there are sub-contractors, agency staff.
“And there are no mandatory safety regulations. It is effectively self-regulatory, and what needs to happen is a Safe Pass-type system that operates on construction sites needs to be implemented at ports, so workers operating any machinery will have specific training for doing so.”
Mr Whelan said it was the responsibility of the Government to implement such a system.
“The workforce is so fractured in the ports that you could have several different companies working on the one ship – the seafarer might be working for one company, the stevedore working for another, and agency staff helping out the stevedores.
“So it is hard to zero in on one company. That is why the Government should have the authority to say this is the standard that we expect everyone to be working under, across all the ports.”
A delegation of Siptu representatives met Minister for Employment Affairs Regina Doherty last month specifically about health and safety at Irish ports.