Unprotected Chemical Exposure Claims against the Defence Forces

New unprotected chemical exposure claims against the Defence Forces, made by a former Baldonnel-based air corps mechanic, have been published in the Journal.

Working conditions at the Casement Airbase in Baldonnel, County Dublin, have been the subject of investigation since unprotected chemical exposure claims against the Defence Forces were made in 2015 and 2016 by former air corps personnel, and as a result of a HSA inspection in October last year.

The current investigation is looking into claims that servicemen were exposed to high levels of dichloromethane for up to twelve years despite the Defence Forces being aware of the health risks. The new unprotected chemical exposure claims against the Defence Forces are potentially more serious.

According to the Journal, a “whistle-blower” has alleged air corps servicemen were not protected against exposure to carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals at Baldonnel, and as a result at least twenty former servicemen have died due to neurological and cancer-related illnesses.

The former air corps mechanic also believes that the partners of personnel based at the aerodrome have suffered fertility issues, and that their children have been born with birth defects or development issues. Five children have allegedly died due to their parents´ exposure to toxic chemicals and, the “whistle-blower” claims, many more are living with life-changing illnesses.

The Journal reports the representative association for air corps personnel – PDFORRA – has been attempting to get attitudes towards health and safety changed for many years. The association´s general secretary Gerry Rooney told the Journal: “There’s a tendency in military organisations to focus on carrying out the operation at all costs. It´s fairly clear there was a problem with chemicals and their use.”

Attempts to get comments from the Defence Forces and Department of Defence about the new unprotected chemical exposure claims against the Defence Forces were unsuccessful, but Dublin South Central TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh was heavily critical of junior Justice Minister Paul Kehoe. He told the Journal that previous chemical exposure claims had fallen on deaf ears, despite Minister Kehoe stating the health and wellbeing of members of the Defence Forces are a priority for him.


Company Fined for Fatal Breach of Health and Safety Laws

A Dublin company has been fined €200,000 for a fatal breach of health and safety laws that resulted in the death of a 32-year-old warehouse supervisor.

On 28th November 2015, Robert Ceremuga – a warehouse supervisor at VF Coldstores Ltd – was killed instantly when racking supporting 36 tonnes of foodstuff collapsed on top of him. An engineer’s report following the accident concluded that the racking had collapsed due to the accidental impact of a forklift. It was found that the employee operating the forklift had been employed by VF Coldstores of Finglas, Dublin, just three weeks earlier and did not have the appropriate license to operate the vehicle.

The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) for a fatal breach of health and safety laws, and last month a representative of VF Coldstores Ltd pleaded guilty to the charges at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. The court also heard a victim impact statement read by Robert´s widow – Maria – following which Judge Melanie Greally adjourned the hearing in order to “conduct a scientific approach” to ascertaining the fine.

The hearing was reconvened yesterday, when Judge Greally imposed a fine of €200,000 on VF Coldstores Ltd for a fatal breach of health and safety laws. Speaking after the successful prosecution, the Assistant Chief Executive of the HSA – Brian Higgisson – said: “It is important that employers adequately manage and conduct work activities, in particular carrying out risk assessments before any major works, such as alterations to racking. These assessments should ensure that everyone has the necessary training, knowledge and experience to complete the work in a safe manner.”


High Court Approves Compensation Settlement for a Work Accident Claim

The High Court has approved a compensation settlement for a work accident claim made by the widow of a man killed while working at Connacht Sportsground.

On 30th April 2008, Declan Byrne (31) was killed when a 1.4 tonne steel beam fell on him while he was trying to realign it during the construction of a new gym at the Connacht Sportsground in Galway. An investigation into Declan´s death resulted in charges being brought against the company for whom he worked – CDM Steel Ltd – under the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act.

The company was acquitted on the charges in November 2013, after the Galway Circuit Criminal Court heard that it had been Declan´s decision to use scaffolding and a bottle jack – rather than lift the beam with a crane – because the blockwork of the building was so far advanced. However, the judge in the case criticised the lack of supervision and an “appalling lack of communication” at the site.

Following the acquittal of her husband´s former employer, Dolores Byrne from Ballyhaunis in County Mayo made a work accident claim against CDM Steel Ltd alleging that the company´s negligence was responsible for Declan´s death. She also sued Portant Developments Ltd – the main contractor for the development of the site, the Connacht Branch of the Rugby Football Union and the Irish Rugby Football Union – the owners of the Connacht Sportsground.

All four parties denied their role in Declan´s death, and alleged that he failed to have regard for his own safety by attempting to realign the steel beam without the appropriate lifting equipment. However, at the High Court, Mr Justice Kevin Cross heard that a compensation settlement for the work accident claim had been agreed amounting to €500,000.

Judge Cross approved the compensation settlement for a work accident claim, expressing his sympathies to Dolores and her two children for their tragic and irreplaceable loss. He told the family that, although the compensation settlement for a work accident claim was a good one that he was happy to approve, “nothing can replace what you have lost”.


Court Adjourns Inquest into Fatal Accident on Cherry Picker

A Cork coroner´s inquest into the death of Frank McGrath – who died in a fatal accident on a cherry picker – has been adjourned pending a report by the Health & Safety Authority (HSA).

Frank McGrath (58) – a member of the governing body at University College Cork (UCC) – died on March 5th last year in a fatal accident on a cherry picker. No details of the accident have yet been released, other than Frank died of extensive injuries die to a “blunt force trauma”.

Frank had been employed by UCC in their maintenance and engineering section for twenty-seven years and, on the night of the accident, had been attending to the lighting systems on the college campus. Frank died at the scene despite frantic efforts to save him by staff and paramedics.

An investigation into the fatal accident on a cherry picker was launched by the HSA under the Safety and Welfare at Work Act, lead by HSA Inspector Michael O´Flynn. Mr O´Flynn told the coroner – Dr Myra Cullinane – that the investigation into Frank´s death was “complex” and was taking some time to complete.

Dr Cullinane adjourned the hearing into Frank´s fatal accident on a cherry picker until 3rd April.

A spokesperson on behalf of UCC said “Frank McGrath joined UCC in 1986 and was immensely popular among all staff. He was elected on two occasions to membership of the governing body, where he shared his wisdom, pragmatism and above all his loyalty to and pride in UCC. UCC is deeply saddened by the accident and (again) wishes to extend its sincere sympathy to his family and colleagues.”


HSA Warns About Slips and Falls in the Workplace

The Health and Safety Authority has issued a warning about slips and falls in the workplace after more than €22 million was awarded last year in workplace slip and fall injury compensation.

The warning came in a statement made to the press by Martin O´Halloran – Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Authority – in response to figures released by the Injuries Board that showed there were 807 assessments of injury compensation for injuries at work accepted in 2012 amounting to €22 million (1).

More than one third of the accepted assessments of injury compensation for workplace accidents were attributable to avoidable slips and falls in the workplace, and Mr O´Halloran urged employers to take better precautions against such preventable injuries.

He referred to research in which it was indicated that employees take less care than they should at work because of the employer´s responsibility to prevent slips and trips, and because of bad practices developed at home – especially when working at height.

Mr O´Halloran revealed that a quarter of all workplaces surveyed by HSA inspectors last year had not conducted a risk assessment to assess the dangers of slips and falls in the workplace, and that two of the highest accepted assessments of compensation for slips and falls in the workplaces related to preventable fatal accidents.

Other statistics related to compensation claims for accidents at work included:

  • The average award for a workplace accident was €27,286. The average award for men was slightly higher at €27,657, while women received an average award of €26,456.
  • Men are twice as likely as women to sustain a workplace injury with men accounting for 69 percent and women 31 percent of the accepted assessments for slips and falls in the workplace.
  • The majority of awards were to workers in the 25 to 34 age group (32.2%) while over 1 in 5 (22.6%) were in the 35 to 44 age bracket. The vast majority of awards (82.6%) were under €38,000.
  • For the second consecutive year, Thursday was the most common day for workplace accidents while the least number of accidents occurred on Sunday. July saw the highest number of accidents in 2012.
  • Slips, trips and falls were the most common accident type accounting for one third (33.6%) of all awards for workplace accidents.

Mr O’Halloran concluded by saying “Effective management of workplace safety and health not only protects workers from injury and ill-health, but also has the potential to save businesses thousands of euro. Proper management of workplace safety and health contributes to long-term commercial success and profitability. I would urge all business owners and directors to take some time this week to consider the safety systems they have in place and make sure not to leave anything to chance”.

(1) It should be noted that, in 2012, less than one-third of assessments made by the Injuries Board were accepted – indicating that the number of compensation claims for slips and falls in the workplace would likely be approaching 2,500.


“Unplanned” Sick Days Cost Industry 1.5 Billion Euros

A report published this week by the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) has revealed that absenteeism is costing the country 1.5 billion Euros each year in lost productivity.

The findings were based on a survey conducted in 2010 in which absenteeism levels in 2009 were examined across 635 companies employing a total of 110,000 people.  It was estimated in the report that 11 million working days were lost annually due to “unplanned” sick days although the report gave no indication of how many of these were due to accidents in the workplace and work illnesses.

Defining absenteeism as an “unscheduled disruption of the work process due to days lost as a result of sickness or any other cause not excused through statutory entitlements or company approval”, the report revealed that high-pressure rewards driven call centres recorded the highest absence rate (3.67%), while software companies had the lowest rates of absenteeism (1.56%). It also cited the main reason given for absence from work was minor illnesses.

However, the figures are much higher than those issued each year by the Health Safety Authority (HSA) in their annual “Summary of Workplace Injury” which, although a more accurate reflection of occupational health in Ireland (the IBEC conclusions were drawn by studying less than one half of one per cent of the workforce), are reliant on employers reporting work injury and illnesses of four or more days to the HSA.

The wide difference between the HSA figures and those estimated by IBEC could be due to an employer´s reluctance to report injuries and illness caused by their negligence. Although claims for injuries at work are declining in the farming and construction industries, those related to falls at work and repetitive strain injuries are on the increase, and if an employer reports injuries which are due to his breach of health and safety regulations, he could be inviting a visit from HSA investigators.

The publication of the report also coincides with a similar Health and Safety Executive release in the UK, which estimated that 560,000 employees in England and Wales took a total of 13.4 million days off last year due to stress in the workplace. Proportionately, it would appear that the situation is far worse in the Republic.


Fatal Farm Accidents Continue to Rise

A conference in Dublin, organised by the Health and Safety Authority, Teagasc and the Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee has heard that the number of fatal farm accidents has already reached 16 this year, and is on its way to passing the twenty year high of 26 farm-related deaths in 2010.

Key speaker at the event, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, heard that the highest proportion of deaths on farms was due to accidents with machinery, but that other hazards – such as the handling of livestock and the prevention of falls – also had to be tackled.

The Minister responded by stating that “People working on farms need to be more conscious of safety requirements, in particular since in many instances they are working on their own. A significant change in mindset is required if we are to prevent further serious farm accidents”.

He continued by commenting “By continuously talking about and being aware of farm safety we can together bring about a change of culture and farmer thinking in this area”, and concluded his speech by saying “changing farmers´ attitudes is ultimately about self-regulation”.

The conference, which was hosted in Castleknock marked the first time that an international meeting on agricultural occupational health and safety had been held in Ireland, and representatives from the United States, Norway, Denmark, Italy and Great Britain were also in attendance.


Irish Farm Fatalities More Than Double in 2010

A report released by the Health and Safety Authority has revealed an increase of 127% in fatal accidents on Irish farms in 2010. The number of deaths in the agriculture industry rose from 11 in 2009 to 25 in 2010 and represents more than half of all workplace fatalities occurring in Ireland.

Commenting on the high fatal accident rate in agriculture, Chief Executive of the HSA, Mr. Martin O´Halloran stated “Farming is a difficult and challenging occupation, many involved are self-employed and the pressures that farmers are under can be intense at times. However, the fact is that the types of farm accidents that are causing deaths and serious accidents, such as those involving machinery and livestock, can be prevented.”

He also urged farmers and farm proprietors to follow the example of the construction industry, which has seen a substantial drop in workplace fatalities (from 10 to 6 in 2010), and which Mr. O´Halloran attributed to everybody “buying-in” to the concept of health and safety. Reaffirming the HSA policy that increased compliance results in a sustained reduction in accidents, Mr O´Halloran announced an increase in planned farm inspections in 2011 from 1,700 (in 2010) to a minimum of 3,000.

Acknowledging that many types of farm accidents which cause death and serious injury can be prevented, Mr. O’Halloran concluded, “We want to work with farmers by taking a sensible approach to health and safety management. We will support those that genuinely want to improve and take enforcement action against those that refuse to do so”.


Employers Given Ice Advice by HSA

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has urged employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and visitors to their premises during cold weather. Writing on the HSA web site, Anne Maria O’Connor, Senior Inspector with the Authority said –

“Last year approximately one in five reported accidents to the Authority were as a result of a slip, trip or fall. With approximately a quarter of these accidents resulting in absences from work of more than a month, it’s in everyone’s interest that simple safeguards are taken to reduce the risk of workplace falls.”

The HSA has issued further advice on its web site to prevent slips, trips and falls due to treacherous conditions in freezing weather. These include identifying areas of the workplace where employees and visitors are most likely to be affected by ice and snow – such as car parks and exposed walkways – and making sure that floor areas are kept as dry as possible. Employers are also encouraged to monitor weather forecasts to plan ahead for inclement weather and plan accordingly.

Employees are also offered advice by the HSA to prevent the incidence of slips, trips and falls due to icy conditions. It is suggested that employees take care when getting out of their vehicles – holding onto its door to support themselves when the ground may be frozen. Furthermore, employees should also wear appropriate footwear for the weather and dry them thoroughly when entering a workplace to avoid causing wet and slippery conditions inside the premises.

Employers have an obligation under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act to provide a safe environment in which to work. Failing to take heed of the advice issued by the HSA could result in an employer being liable for any injury sustained in the workplace. You should mention this to a solicitor if you are in the unfortunate position where you have to make a claim for personal injury compensation due to the lack of care by an employer.


HSA Launches New Farm Safety Guidelines

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA)  has launched new farm safety guidelines with the support of farming organisations. Farms are the most dangerous workplaces in Ireland in terms of fatal accidents. The focus of the HSA’s efforts are to help farmers identify and negate the key risks and hazards in farms. For example, it is not generally known that farm animals are one of the main causes of farm deaths. The new farm safety initiative includes an improved code of practice for child safety on farms, guidelines on the safe use of tractors, guidance on safety around overhead power lines, and guidance on livestock safety at marts and lairages. The objective is to reduce the number of farm accidents.


HSA Launches Construction Safety Week

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has launched Construction Safety Week to reduce the number of construction accidents and construction accident claims. The focus of the safety week will be construction vehicles, presumably because the HSA as identified this aspect of construction sites as needing improvement. HSA staff will conduct construction site inspections this week.  As well as inspecting construction sites, HSA staff will also try to educate construction firms on the hazards posed by construction vehicles in an effort to prevent future accidents.

The HSA points out that accidents involving construction machinery and vehicles are responsible for very serious accidents and construction worker deaths.

Two construction workers have lost their lives so far this year, a much improved safety record compared with 2009.


HSA Combats Workplace Slip, Trip, and Fall Injuries

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) of Ireland has published a new guide, Stop Slips and Trips – Get a Grip, for employers and employees to help reduce workplace injuries caused by simple slips, trips, and falls. Although this type of injury might initially seem very minor compared with industrial accidents involving heavy machinery, about one fifth of the workers injured from falls stay absent from work for over one month.
Injuries at work due to falls account for about half of all claims for injuries at work that are made by the Injuries Board Ireland.
As with all types of workplace injury prevention programs, the HSA recommends that employers should track all incidents, assess the risks, and concentrate on prevention.  The preventative measure for slips or trips are fairly obvious: placing safety signs in places where trips might occur like unexpected steps, providing protective equipment and appropriate shoes to staff that might regularly be exposed to the risky areas like loading bays, ensuring that there is sufficient lighting so hazards are visible, ensure workers can dry any wet shoes, deal with liquid spills immediately, and most obviously, ensuring there are no bumps and holes on the floor.

The HSA always highlights that workplace safety is a joint responsibility between workers and employers, with both groups responsible for ensuring that there are as few accidents as possible.  However, employers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their workers.  Not just to prevent injury claims and because it’s a legal requirement, but because employers have a duty of care for their employees.


HSA Issues Guidelines to Reduce Work-Related Crashes

The Health and Safety Authority and Road Safety Authority have issued new guidelines “Driving for Work Guidelines”  that provide “an overview of legislation, how to carry out risk assessments and highlights the significant benefits for businesses and the wider community when work related road safety is managed effectively”.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act of 2005 means that employers have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of workers who drive for work.

About one third of all road traffic accidents involve a work vehicle and about 76 people die in work-related crashes annually.

The HSA reports that 42% of Irish businesses have no driving for work policy as part of their health and safety management system.  This raises questions about the liability of employers when employees are involved road traffic accidents.