Probe as staff cuts spark fears of plant accidents

THE Health and Safety Authority is to carry out an investigation into allegations that skeletal staffing at the IFI plant in Co Cork is posing a serious risk of major accidents.

The HSA confirmed yesterday that it had been contacted by an employees’ safety representative at the Marino Point plant and by Deputy David

Stanton, who both expressed fears about the current level of trained safety personnel at the plant.

More than 120 employees were let go from the plant last Friday and management has begun shutting down a number of production facilities.

However, employees’ safety representative Noel O’Donovan claimed there were only three or four people trained for fire-fighting employed on last weekend’s shifts, compared to 15

normally.

“I’m living 500 yards from the plant and I’m concerned in case anything happens,” Mr O’Donovan said, adding that he was calling a meeting of local residents last night to discuss the issue.

“There are six vessels full of catalysts which have to be kept at a certain temperature or they go on fire. There are 26,000 tonnes of ammonia in the plant at present,” Mr O’Donovan said. A company spokesman refuted workers’ claims, saying that management was very safety-conscious and had maintained adequate numbers of people in the plant at all times.

Workers also expressed concern that their pension fund would be drastically reduced. They said that the fund, once worth more than €100 million would only realise €80 million because of recent falls in stock market values. Of that, €20 million will have to be set aside to cover existing pensioners. The remaining 60 million will be divided among the workforce, according to service, using a formula devised by the pension consultants.

A company spokesman said the pensions situation was “unclear” at present and they understood people’s concerns.

Workers’ representative Stephen O’Riordan and a delegation of employees met with Health Minister Micheál Martin yesterday to discuss a number of concerns.

“We told him we needed immediate action by the Government to increase our redundancy payments from two weeks per year of service to five-and-a-half weeks,” Mr O’Riordan said.

“We also told him our fears about the pension fund and the need to ensure it was adequate. The Dáil will vote later this week to make a once-off payment of €5,000 per worker to tide us over in the interim and we welcome that,” Mr O’Riordan said.

More than 100 workers from Belfast, Arklow and Cork are to fly out to London tomorrow morning to meet with representatives of ICI, the 49% shareholder in IFI.

“We will also be urging that company to find more money to improve our redundancy payments,” Mr O’Riordan said.

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