The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) has confirmed in its latest annual report that workplace deaths have increased sharply to 23 during 2014/15.
This compares to eight workplace deaths in 2013/14 and is significantly higher than the last five-year average of 15 deaths per year.
The latest figures also underline the importance of HSENI’s focus on farm safety, as despite a fall in the number of farm fatalities from 11 in 2012/13 to four in 2013/14, sadly 2014/15 saw the number rise again to nine.
Through its second Farm Safety Action Plan, the Farm Safety Partnership (FSP) continues to make a major contribution towards raising awareness of the main health and safety issues facing the farming industry. However, the challenge remains to help farmers make the transition from awareness to changing behaviours.
Acknowledging that attitudes towards farm safety have improved, HSENI’s Chief Executive Keith Morrison is calling for more to be done to address the culture of risk-taking that still exists within some of the farming community. He said:
“Farming still has a poor safety record, with more fatalities across all age groups compared to other industries. Not only did nine people die on our farms last year, since the year 2000 there have been 102 farming deaths in Northern Ireland. This is a shocking record and needs to be tackled by all of us. We must all work every day to stop this needless heartache.
“Sadly, two people have already lost their lives on farms in the first six months of this year and while HSENI and partners will continue our efforts to eradicate farm accidents, farmers must also play their part by taking responsibility for safety on their farms. By working together we can develop a positive, preventative culture where safety is built in to every job on the farm – big or small.”
George Lucas, chair of HSENI and the Farm Safety Partnership, added: “While it is encouraging that more farmers are introducing effective measures to improve safety, we need to build upon the strong partnerships already in place to ensure that all farms operate within a culture of safety first.
“Any one of the four main causes – Slurry, Animals, Falls and Equipment – can cause a serious injury or farm death. Sadly in 2014/15 we are still seeing far too many accidents of all types on farms and this needs to stop if we are to avoid future fatalities.”
The report also shows major injuries are down by 6.3% on last year, and down 13% since a five-year peak in 2010/11. The difference between a major injury and a fatality can be seconds or centimetres and HSENI has said it will continue to focus on reducing the causes of serious injuries as a means of reducing future fatalities.
Despite the scale of work undertaken by HSENI and its partners to reduce accidents in the workplace, it is clear that a renewed focus on workplace safety across all sectors is required.
HSENI also has major concerns about poor health and safety practices found in some parts of the local construction, waste and recycling, and extractive industries.
For example, last year a targeted inspection campaign found evidence of poor standards and dangerous practices on a number of Northern Ireland’s construction sites. HSENI inspectors also continue to see evidence which suggests that it is only a matter of time before another fatality occurs on a waste and recycling site.
Commenting on these findings and calling for more effort from industry, Mr. Lucas said: “It is simply unacceptable for people to die or be seriously hurt in workplaces and clearly some parts of some industries need to do more.
“As our economy recovers we all need to be vigilant to unsafe working practices and to work hard every day to ensure we reduce the number of injuries and deaths in the workplace.
“While HSENI is keen to advise companies on how to meet their legal requirements, we will not hesitate to take enforcement action where there is a clear danger to the well-being and safety of Northern Ireland’s workforce.”
Warning of the potential serious consequences for employers across all sectors, Keith Morrison added: “The human cost of a workplace fatality is unbearable and unacceptable for those families who have to deal with the unimaginable loss of a loved one.
“Also, as an employer you may have to live with the knowledge that such a tragedy could likely have been easily avoided.
“In addition, HSENI will investigate, as will the PSNI, which could result in charges for corporate or gross negligence manslaughter. Other charges may also be brought under health and safety law.
“These investigations can incur enormous costs to your business, which will be stopped until it is determined that the risk to employees has been dealt with.
“I’d urge all employers and employees to build on the good work already done so that together we can establish a strong health and safety culture in all workplaces and industries across Northern Ireland.”