The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has expressed concern about its ability to monitor safety standards across many sectors due to a reduction in staffing levels.
The authority has also warned that the number of occupational injuries and associated costs is set to rise as a result of its reduced ability to carry out inspections of workplaces.
There was a 9.8% fall in the number of inspections conducted by HSA officials in 2012 with a further reduction likely this year.
HSA chairman Michael Horgan said the continuing reduction in staff numbers would undermine the organisation’s ability to support key economic sectors into 2014.
“Current staffing means that no proactive inspections can be carried out across a wide range of sectors and are being reduced in other sectors.
“In our view, this will lead to a reduction in standards and an increase in workplace injuries and costs,” he said.
In its annual report, the authority said its successful chemicals programme was also being compromised by its continuing loss of key staff.
A total of 170 were employed by the HSA at the end of 2012 — a reduction of 14 over the year.
Mr Horgan pointed out that the HSA had to withdraw from a number of areas, including support to the developing nano-materials sector.
The HSA said it also had to reduce its input into the development of EU policy relating to the use of chemical because of staffing issues.
The HSA’s annual report shows the number of deaths in the workplace decreased by six to 48 fatalities last year, of which 22 were self-employed, including 17 farmers.
The results mean the worker fatality rate in Ireland is 2.3 per 100,000 workers.
A total of 6,619 non-fatal injuries were reported in 2012 — a 5% decrease.
The HSA said a total of 13,835 workplace inspections and investigations were carried out by its officials last year. Most resulted in either verbal or written advice being issued to the employer.
Around 6% of inspections representing approximately 900 cases led to formal enforcement action.
Mr Horgan said the level of activity was 5% ahead of targets notwithstanding the fact that it represented almost a 10% reduction on the number of inspections conducted in 2011.
The construction and agriculture industries were subject to the highest number of inspections, based on risk-assessment.
The HSA said it had initiated 20 prosecutions which had resulted in fines totalling €425,000, and one suspended 18-month jail sentence being imposed.
The report shows 9% of employers said they had experienced a reportable accident during the year, while 56% of these said they had reported the matter to the HSA as required by law.
Cork recorded the highest number of fatal workplace accidents last year, accounting for nine out of a total of 48 deaths.
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