Workplace safety: dangerous work

Employers must prioritise supervision, training and support to prevent rising injury rates

Agriculture has one of the highest rates of fatality among workplaces in Ireland, according to a report by the ESRI and the Health and Safety Authority. Photograph: Frank Miller

Agriculture has one of the highest rates of fatality among workplaces in Ireland, according to a report by the ESRI and the Health and Safety Authority. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The publication of a report on workplace injury and illness by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) marks a significant deepening of knowledge around occupational health.

It examined five sectors with persistently high injury risk: health; construction; transport and storage; industry; and agriculture, forestry and fishing. They accounted for 41 per cent of employment and 56 per cent of work-related injury in 2014. Injury rates in the agriculture, construction and industry sectors fell during the recession (2008-2011) compared to the boom (2001-2007). In terms of fatalities, the rate is highest in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector. And while health had the highest total number of days lost due to work-related injury, the transport sector had the highest number of days lost per worker.

There is a clear need for employers to prioritise supervision, training and support to prevent rising injury rates among new workers

This significant body of research will enable the HSA to refocus its prevention efforts. Night workers, shift workers and new recruits had a higher risk of injury and must be the focus of new workplace safety campaigns. Part-time workers, too, will benefit from innovative prevention strategies; in the agriculture sector, part-time workers were found to face a greater risk of work-related illness per hour worked. This part-time effect was also found in transport.

In terms of specific illnesses, musculoskeletal disorders continue to be the main reported disorder. Significantly, the rate of musculoskeletal problems rose during the recession. They accounted for some 46 per cent of cases in the health sector, while stress, anxiety and depression were also more common illnesses in health (22 per cent) than in other types of employment (16 per cent).

Helen Russell, lead author and research professor at the ESRI, noted that while the improving economy was creating employment growth this could bring its own issues for new recruits in construction, health, agriculture and transport. There is a clear need for employers to prioritise supervision, training and support to prevent rising injury rates among new workers.

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