Safer building sites


The lack of safety precautions taken on many building sites throughout the State is nothing short of scandalous

While the construction industry proceeds to make healthy profits, an unconscionable number of building workers continue to die. The incidence of mortality on Irish building sites is double that of Britain. And while some progress has been made by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) in recent years in addressing an historic neglect of safety measures amongst its members, a great deal remains to be done.

Twenty-two people died on Irish building sites last year and hundreds more were seriously injured. But, apart from commitments to introduce tough new legislation by the Minister of State with responsibility for safety in the workplace, Mr Tom Kitt, nothing seemed to happen. Two years ago, Mr Kitt first promised legislation and on-the-spot fines to counteract unacceptable safety practices on building sites. Those measures are still awaited. But now the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is demanding that the proposed Bill should include a provision whereby unscrupulous employers can be charged with corporate manslaughter, if their deliberate negligence and neglect leads to the death of a worker. That is what happens in other EU member states.

Progress has been slow in raising safety awareness levels. New training and safety procedures have been introduced at considerable cost by the CIF, in association with FÁS, the Health and Safety Authority and ICTU. But the position is still bleak.

Inspections of 250 sites by the Health and Safety Authority, last June, found that more than half failed to meet basic safety requirements. Only a tiny percentage of the construction sites were found to be fully compliant. In many cases, the application of safety regulations was either limited or non-existent. The HSA has described the results as "extremely disturbing". There was an extensive failure to comply with regulations in the key danger areas of scaffolding, excavations and roof work. Less than one third of the sites inspected were found to be "broadly compliant" with safety requirements.

It is clear that many members of the CIF are failing in their responsibility to workers. The situation is even worse where sub-contractors and rogue employers are concerned.

Earlier this year, Mr Justice Kelly jailed a company director after he failed to fulfil safety undertakings he had given to the High Court. That is the only language some builders understand. Safety legislation must be backed up by tough penalties. Lives are at stake.