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Workplace accidents

Construction deaths more than doubled last year with falls from heights being the leading cause

Overall, 46 people died in workplace accidents in 2019 and agriculture remains the most dangerous sector in which to work.

shutterstock_97965908 File photo Shutterstock / Christian Lagerek Shutterstock / Christian Lagerek / Christian Lagerek

CONSTRUCTION DEATHS IN Ireland increased by 140% in 2019, rising from five to 12, according to provisional statistics from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

Falls from heights are the leading cause of construction worker deaths, and fatalities are more common in smaller construction companies with fewer than 10 employees.

Overall, 46 people died in workplace accidents in Ireland in 2019 – an 18% rise from the previous year when 39 people died.

Vehicles, falls from heights, drowning and getting trapped or crushed were the main cause of fatal injuries.

HSA Graph1 Five most common causes of fatalities HSA HSA

Agriculture remains the most dangerous sector in which to work with 18 deaths, up from 15 in 2018, the HSA said.

Older farmers are most at risk and 13 victims were over 60 years of age with 10 of these over 70 and two over 80.

Farming deaths occurred throughout 2019, with three each in January, April, July and September.

The deaths were associated with being trapped or crushed (seven); struck by a vehicle (two); drowning (two); struck by falling object (two); and other (five).

Livestock were involved in six fatalities, in each case the animals involved were cattle.

Tractors were involved in the majority of workplace vehicle incidents last year, claiming five lives. Trucks, loaders, trailers, teleporters, quads, trams, fork lifts, road sweepers, and dumpers were also involved.

More male deaths 

The figures also show that men die on the job at much higher rates than women, with the majority of deaths – 44 – impacting males compared to two females – both non-workers – in 2019.

Meanwhile, six fatalities occurred among people under 35 years – including three children – representing 13% of the overall total.

Wexford had the highest number of fatalities with seven deaths in 2019, followed by six deaths in Dublin and five in Cork. Cavan, Longford, Leitrim, Laois, Meath, Offaly, Sligo and Westmeath had no workplace deaths last year.

3-graphs-jan-2020-v2 HSA HSA

April was the most dangerous month with six deaths, while November had no reported fatalities.

3-graphs-jan-2020-v2 HSA HSA

Commenting on the figures, HSA Chief Executive Officer, Dr Sharon McGuinness, expressed concern that construction deaths increased from five in 2018 to 12 in 2019.

“The figures show that the number of construction deaths have increased to levels not seen since they last spiked in 2015, when falls from a height were also the biggest trigger in fatal injuries,” McGuinness said. 

“This is a worrying trend and shows that without proper risk assessments and health and safety considerations, ultimately a worker may pay the price with their life.”

Since 2008, 107 fatal incidents have occurred in the construction sector. Six people died in construction deaths in 2017, 10 in 2016 and 11 and 2015.

‘Cutting corners’ 

McGuinness noted that the HSA’s provisional statistics show the rate of construction fatalities has increased considerably in the last 12 months from 3.5 per 100,000 people employed to approximately 8.2 per 100,000.

“Construction workers engage in many activities that may expose them to hazards, such as falling from a height, unguarded machinery or being struck by construction equipment,” she said. 

Some 940 non-fatal incidents and dangerous occurrences were also reported to the HSA from the construction sector in 2019.

McGuinness said that while many larger construction firms “have improved standards around worker safety, what we are seeing is self-employed and smaller building companies not realising their duty and responsibility to staff, and cutting corners when it comes to health and safety”.

She said the HSA plans to raise awareness about such dangers in upcoming safety campaigns.

Preventable deaths 

McGuinness said most workplace deaths are preventable.

“Generally, incidents occur when safety shortcuts are taken. But the mentality of placing people’s lives in peril in the race to finish a job – or save money – needs to stop. Lives depend on it,” she stated. 

McGuinness also expressed concern at the issue of health and safety in the country’s ports and docks, with five deaths in 2019, one more than in 2018.

“These tragedies prompted the HSA to launch a national inspection campaign in October, which focused on the management of health and safety during vehicle movements in docks and ports.

“Employers must demonstrate from the top that no job is worth a loss of life, injury or illness. This message is especially important as we face into Brexit with more activity expected in shipping and ports.

“We must not become complacent as we continue our mission to prevent injury, death and ill health at work,” she said. 

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