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Nationwide safety inspections begin on construction sites

The health and safety of construction site workers is being put under the spotlight Photo: PA

A series of inspections will take place on construction sites across Ireland in a bid to reduce injuries and fatalities in the sector.

Five people were killed in construction-related activity in 2018, and there were 767 non-fatal incidents reported to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

There have been six deaths reported so far this year.

The new safety campaign will from Monday target sites across the country over the next two weeks, focusing on hazards such as silica dust and asbestos generated during refurbishment and demolition work.

It coincides with the European Week for Safety and Health at Work and its theme “Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances”.

Other issues targeted include work at height and manual handling risk management, which can result in the onset of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) including back injury.

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Inspectors will be focusing on this area as 204 manual handling incidents were reported in the industry last year, making up more than a quarter of all non-fatal construction incidents.

Meanwhile, 271 of the non-fatal incidents in construction involved sprains and strains.

As many of these health problems develop over time, HSA assistant chief executive Mark Cullen said more must be done to ensure the future health of workers is not compromised.

He said: “This enforcement initiative will help prevent long-term illnesses for workers and ensure that they can remain healthy and safe on the job.

“With nearly 150,000 employees in the construction industry in Ireland, I am urging industry bodies, employers, trade unions and employees to come together so that all construction workers can return home safe and healthy from work every evening.

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“Exposure to hazardous substances in construction, usually through breathing in dust or fumes, can lead to a variety of negative health implications from minor irritation to cancer.

“Many of these diseases are long-term and worsen over time.

“Prevention is the best strategy, and it is essential that there is an awareness of the dangers and appropriate control measures are put in place.

“These include using less harmful materials, local exhaust ventilation, using water to suppress dusts, and providing suitable respiratory protection equipment (RPE).”

HSA inspectors are proactively visiting and inspecting construction sites to check for exposure to silica dust, which can occur anywhere that concrete, stone or sand-based materials are being used.

The HSA said if inhaled, it can cause serious lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, silicosis and potentially lung cancer.

They will also check for presence of the banned substance asbestos, which can be found in any building built or refurbished before 2000.

It only becomes hazardous when disturbed and fibres are released into the air.

If inhaled, it may lead to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.

The inspections will also look at workers involved in activities including the manual handling of stone cladding units, glazing and other materials, which can expose workers to the risk of musculoskeletal injury or ill health.