Tripartite statement on reducing accidents in construction sector

A tripartite consultation has taken place regarding the increase in workplace accidents in the economy as a whole and particularly in the construction sector. In September 2009, within the framework of this consultation, the social partners issued a joint policy statement aiming to reduce workplace accidents and occupational illnesses in the construction industry. Training measures and tougher criteria for obtaining work and work licences are among the proposals.

Increase in workplace accidents

Data from the Department of Labour Inspection (Τμήμα Επιθεώρησης Εργασίας) of the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπουργείου Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, MLSI) show that, during 2008, there was a substantial increase in workplace accidents (12.4%) in Cyprus, compared with 2007. In total, some 2,367 occupational accidents occurred in 2008, compared with 2,105 cases in the previous year. According to a sectoral analysis of the available data on workplace accidents provided by the Department of Labour Inspection, the construction sector still has the highest number of accidents, with a rate of 27.42% in 2008 compared with 26.75% in 2007 (CY0707029I). The frequency of accidents in the construction sector is more than twice the average in the economy as a whole, and the proportion of fatal accidents is even higher.

According to the Minister of Labour and Social Insurance, Sotiroula Charalambous, this development gives rise to an urgent need to take additional measures aimed first and foremost at reducing the frequency of accidents in the construction sector.

Existing prevention measures

Although the target of reducing workplace accidents both in the economy as a whole and more specifically in the construction sector appears to be one of the basic priorities of MLSI, the measures that have been implemented so far do not appear to have had the desired result.

Among the provisions to date, MLSI aims to train about 2,000 staff members in the public and private sectors, representing over 5% of employees in the construction industry. MLSI also introduced a three-year scheme that provides employers with subsidies for upgrading their equipment for performing work at height. Due to its successful completion, the scheme may be continued.

For the purpose of preventing occupational accidents among young people – who are particularly vulnerable, compared with other age groups – the Council of Ministers approved the implementation of a Scheme for the Rapid Training of New Entrants in the Labour Market on Health and Safety Issues, which has been announced and is expected to be put into effect soon. In addition, workplace health and safety issues have been included in all levels of the public education system.

Joint policy statement

As part of the measures implemented to date, Ms Charalambous emphasised that the signing of a joint statement on reducing workplace accidents on 11 September 2009 does not constitute the beginning but rather the continuation of initiatives for the adoption of appropriate procedures and good practices. These will make an effective contribution to the improvement of health and safety conditions at building sites and the reduction of occupational hazards, with multiple benefits including increased productivity and robustness of enterprises as well as greater social progress, well-being and quality of life. In parallel, the statement is a joint step towards successfully meeting the goal of reducing the frequency of workplace accidents by 25% during the 2007–2012 period, as set out in the European Commission Communication Improving quality and productivity at work: Community strategy 2007–2012 on health and safety at work (COM(2007) 62 final).

The social partners that co-signed the statement comprised three competent government ministries, five employer organisations, five trade unions, the Union of Cyprus Municipalities (Eνωση Δήμων Κύπρου, UCM) and other bodies involved in the construction sector. They are committed to working jointly to substantially improve the levels of health and safety at work in the construction sector, as well as to reduce workplace accidents and occupational illnesses. Although they did not specify a first package of measures to be implemented, in order to achieve the overall objective the social partners are committed to promoting the following strategies in their respective fields of activity:

  • the integration of health and safety issues in the procedures to award the design and implementation of construction works;
  • continuing education, training and awareness-building on issues of workplace health and safety for all construction workers;
  • the introduction of criteria on workplace health and safety issues for the registration of new members or renewal of existing engineers’ licences by the Cyprus Scientific and Technical Chamber (Επιστημονικό Τεχνικό Επιμελητήριο Κύπρου, ETEK), as well as for the registration or renewal of contractors’ licences by the Council for the Registration and Audit of Civil Engineering and Building Contractors;
  • cooperation for the effective observance and implementation of the legislation on health and safety in the construction sector.

Evangelia Soumeli, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK/PEO)

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