Ireland's HSA Readying New Three-Year Strategy

Late last year, the Health and Safety Authority's chief executive marked the agency's 20th anniversary, saying it has made workplaces in Ireland safer and healthier. Occupational illnesses and the safe and sustainable use of chemicals are new challenges to be faced, he said.

With its 20th anniversary having taken place in November 2009, Ireland's Health and Safety Authority is looking ahead to this decade's challenges. HSA was created after a report by the Commission of Inquiry on Safety, Health and Welfare at Work triggered the introduction of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, which took effect Nov. 1, 1989, applying to all 1.1 million Irish workers at that time. (The prior regulations applied to only about 20 percent of them, according to HAS.)

Martin O'Halloran, chief executive of HAS, said that date was a significant moment for Irish workplaces. "The 1989 Act created a dedicated Authority with responsibility for safety, health and welfare in all workplaces. The new act was responsible for a modern philosophy with innovative practices, such as risk assessment and hazard identification, introduced as a result," he said. "There have been many tragedies in Irish workplaces over the last 20 years, and these must be acknowledged, but I believe that without the introduction of the 1989 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, many more workers would have been seriously injured or lost their lives at work." In 1989, the fatal accident rate was 5.2 per 100,000 workers; it was 2.5 per 100,000 in 2008.

"If we look around us, Irish workplaces have been completely transformed over the last 20 years. A good example is the construction sector where hard hats, high-visibility vests, and safety boots are now an engrained part of the culture. Employees and employers across all sectors are more aware of their rights and responsibilities and are experiencing the benefits of good practice," said O'Halloran.

HSA plans to launch a new three-year strategy early this year. O'Halloran said much work remains to be done. "I believe that the way we approach work has changed for the better, but we cannot allow the gains made over the last 20 years to slip, regardless of the economic situation," he said. "The nature of work itself has changed dramatically since the establishment of the authority, and many new issues have emerged in relation to, for example, occupational illnesses and the safe and sustainable use of chemicals. We have many challenges to face over the coming years."

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