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Construction sector safety boosted by women, Glasnevin event hears

Workers’ Memorial Day notes ideas, energy and drive of women in building industry

Minister of State for Trade and Employment Pat Breen and chief executive of the Health Service Authority Dr Sharon McGuinness at the unveiling of a Workers Memorial Day plaque at Glasnevin Cemetery. Photograph: Chris Bellew

Yoga classes and mindfulness apps are among changes women are bringing to the construction industry, an event to remember lives lost in the workplace heard on Sunday.

International Workers’ Memorial Day was marked with an event at Glasnevin Cemetery and attended by about 50 people including Minister of State for Trade and Employment Pat Breen, general secretary of congress Patricia King, chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority Sharon McGuinness and chief executive of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) Tom Parlon.

A minute’s silence was observed to remember the 37 people who died as a result of incidents at work last year.

Louise Martin, co-ordinator of Environmental Health and Safety with Walls Construction, said there remained few women in the construction industry but those that were there were making it safer.

“Being a woman brings some advantages. We are good communicators; we sometimes see the soft side in things as well. We think holistically – not just about what’s happening on-site but also what’s going on in people’s lives outside work.

“I think sometimes we bring a different energy, skillset and talent. I see more women coming into the industry in the last three years, and without a doubt their new ideas, energy, drive and initiatives are going to change the future and bring meaningful improvements to my sector.”

Wellness committee

An initiative in Walls, driven by women working there, was the establishment of a wellness committee, she said.

“We talk about safety, we’re talking about health and we’re now starting to talk about wellbeing, wellness.

“We have a wellness committee in Walls and this has been spearheaded by women who have come into our organisation in the last four to five years, who have gone to our senior management, put in place a plan on what they wanted to do, set out why it would benefit the organisation and management has agreed, given funding and wants to participate.

“And we’ve got lots of the guys who, to be honest would never have thought of this but now want to come on board.

“We’re talking about having mindfulness apps on our phones, lunchtime yoga, healthy lunches going out to all the sites, looking at subscriptions to gym memberships. All of these things we wouldn’t have talked about five or ten years ago because construction would have been quite macho. But now we are opening up and women have brought some of these ideas to the table.

Skills shortage

“So I would love to see more women coming into construction to bring this energy, talent and extra skills through.”

Mr Parlon agreed initiatives like this would make the industry more attractive to women and better for men.

“We have a skills shortage which we’re trying to address in a lot of ways. Women make up 50 per cent of the population, so it’s an obvious place to go and seek workers.”

Mr Breen said Government policy was always to maximise participation in the workforce. Safety and wellbeing of workers was central.

“Workplace illnesses now have overtaken accidents in the workplace for the loss of working days. There’s no excuse for bad safety standards in the workplace.”

The event also heard from Theresa Moriarty of the Irish Labour History Society, on the life of May Abraham (Tennant). Born into a middle-class family in Rathgar, Dublin, in 1869 she moved to London in 1887 where she became an active trade unionist, campaigner for women’s health and safety at work and was one of the earliest woman factory inspectors, appointed in 1893.

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