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Workplace accidents have soared since crisis

The number of industrial accidents has risen 34.6 per cent since the economic crisis in 2013 with companies cutting corners to save on costs, it was revealed on Friday.

The news came only days after the association of insurance companies said most workplaces on the island were not insured and that injured workers were forced to wait decades for compensation.

The new figures on the hike in the number of accidents were revealed at an event on accidents and work and occupational illnesses led by Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou, who expressed concern over the revelations.

According to official figures presented at the event by Sek union chief Andreas Matsas, which showed that between 2013, when the crisis kicked off, and 2017, work accidents had increased by 34.6 per cent. Incidences in 2017 were particularly high, he said, with four fatalities. Also, in 60 per cent of work accidents, the victims are under the age of 44.

According to statistics from labour inspection department reports, there were 2,070 work accidents – five to six a day on average – in 2017 compared with 1,538 in 2013, though fatalities were down since then.

There were a total of 28 workplace-related deaths over the five-year period, with nine fatalities in 2013, five in 2014, four in 2015 and five in 2016.

According to Matsas there were particular problems in the construction sector, but accidents also happened in manufacturing, the wholesale and retail trade and the food supply sector.

He stressed the need for a targeted response, and the creation of an adequate framework for enhancing safety and health at work. Sek, he said, has sent its recommendations to the labour ministry, with an emphasis on the intensification of training programmes in those sectors with a high incidence of accidents.

“There has been an increase in the phenomena since the economic crisis,” said Matsas, adding that it was clear the crisis had compromised health and safety levels in the workplace.

“Unfortunately, during the crisis, less importance and investment was given to security and health issues,” he said, citing the lack of investment in proper training as an example.

“At the same time the deterioration in health and safety issues is in complete alignment with the general effort to deregulate the labour market,” he added, referring to the number of undeclared third-country nationals being illegally employed around the island.

Although some strides had been made legally in terms of higher fines for employers who took on undeclared workers, there was still a need to vote on the regulations concerning a joint inspectorate, and he called for an increase in penalties laid for breaches of health and safety rules, and the possibility of extrajudicial deterrent fines to combat an increasing trend in recurring offences. He also said that there should be a bigger list of recognised occupational diseases.

Acknowledging the statistics, the labour minister promised she would take the necessary steps to reduce occupational accidents and illnesses.

She said she had attended the previous day a special session of the Pancyprian Health and Safety Council where the social partners had expressed their concerns and made suggestions for joint action.

“The lack of proper education and skills and training, and the existence of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions are some of the reasons that contribute to the occurrence of occupational accidents and the development of occupational diseases,” she said.

It is the duty of the state, employers and trade unions to take all the necessary measures to ensure the rights of workers to a safe and healthy environment was respected at all levels.

“Undoubtedly, the first objective for the state today is to safeguard the right to work for all citizens who wish to work. At the same time, however, we also need to ensure the right of workers to safe and healthy work environment,” she concluded.

After the event, participants lit a candle in remembrance of those who died in workplace accidents or from occupational illness.

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