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Personal Injury – The Health Industry

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The Health Service Executive is the largest employer in the State, with more than 67,000 staff in direct employment and a further 33,000 funded by the HSE. They make up what is generally known as “the health industry”.

At one point the Health and Safety Authority targeted the health industry in Ireland for special attention. It was perceived that standards of Safety and Health were, ironically, particularly low in the industry. This feature was shared with the health industry in Britain. This paradox seems to spring from hierarchical structures in hospitals. This deflected the articulation of staff problems.

For the junior hospital doctors, the hours they work were high on the agenda they would like reviewed under Health and Safety. Following the introduction of Directive 2000/34/EC, its provisions were transposed into Irish law by Statutory Instrument No. 494 of 2004, European Communities (Organisation of Working Time) (Activities of Doctors in Training) Regulations 2004, on 28th July 2004 .

From 1st August 2007, an employer cannot require a junior to work for more than 56 hours a week, averaged over a maximum 6-month reference period.

In 1984 the doctors’ professional representative body estimated the average working hours of junior doctors at 70 hours a week.

At one point it was estimated that about 3,500 nurses and hospital attendants were injured at work every year from causes such as assault, burns, slipping on wet floors and stress. In addition they are exposed to all the hazards that the hospital environment holds in the way of biohazards. Needlstick injuries, (accidental puncturing of the skin with a kneedle or scalpel, usually after use,) are a particularly serious danger. This can happen when the object is being disposed of; being transferred from hand to hand; or is lost in linen and “discovered” by an unlucky hand.

Nurses as a group have a considerable level of complaint of low back pain, a sure sign of injury from excessive lifting.