The term “health and safety” has IOSH-Construction2become so pervasive that it’s no wonder ordinary people think some of us are out to prevent anyone being exposed to any sort of risk.  Life is full of risks and people face different risks every day.  However, by taking the approach of some individuals and organisations that we come across it’s a wonder any of them can build up the courage to leave the house in the morning.

Health and safety legislation was introduced in this country to help address the high number of accidents in the workplace which over the years have resulted in hundreds of deaths and many thousands of very serious injuries.

Let’s be sensible here.  Effective workplace safety and health management is an important aspect of any manager’s activities.  It will help prevent accidents and injuries to employees as well as being a real contributor to business success.  The proactive management of the safety and health of workers or anyone who might be affected by work activity isn’t a joke.  The task of raising awareness of the real and genuine dangers that workers can be exposed to isn’t made any easier when one hears of the overzealous individuals who, in an attempt to make their lives easier, end up making the lives of the professionals working in this area all the more difficult.

As we see it, “health and safety” is bandied about as an excuse for all sorts of unpopular decisions.  It can be very convenient to put a difficult decision down to some vague “health and safety” issue rather than outline the real motivation.  There may well be valid reasons to make unpopular decisions, e.g. commercial pressures or fears re legal action, but more often than not they have nothing to do with genuine health and safety concerns.

Last year 54 people lost their lives in workplace accidents and 230 people have been killed since 2008.  So far this year 29 people have been killed in work related accidents.  Apart from these very tragic deaths thousands of people have been injured, many very seriously.  On top of this terrible human toll it’s been estimated that workplace accidents are costing the state up to €3.5 billion annually.  That’s a substantial sum of money during any economic period but in the current environment it’s completely unsustainable.  Small businesses in particular know the financial impact if an employee suffers a bad workplace accident – compensation payments, increased insurance premiums, disrupted production and damage to business reputation all add up and can have a drastic effect on the bottom line.

The position of the Health and Safety Authority is clear – health and safety is not a reason to not do something.  If there are valid risks associated with a workplace activity these risks should be assessed and managed so that the activity can be carried out in a safe way.  Very rarely is the solution to simply not do it.

Martin O’Halloran

Chief Executive
Health and Safety Authority