CIF Health & Safety Summit 2022 Croke Park Dublin

7th June 2022

This year’s CIF Health and Safety Summit saw the construction industry embrace safety in its many forms, with physical, mental and emotional all treated equally.

Representatives for the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, Tom McConkey and Colleen Milligan were both in attendance to meet with delegates and take part in panel discussions.

With it having been three years since the last physical gathering, this year’s Construction Industry Federation (CIF) Health and Safety Summit wasted no time in documenting the industry’s achievements and goals.

Industry leaders and experts came together and the theme was “refocusing the safety, health and wellbeing of our workforce to ensure the future success of the construction industry

One key message was the need to get back to the fundamentals of health and safety. In his opening remarks, Frank Kelly, chairman of the health and safety committee for CIF, emphasised that it only took one momentary lapse for an accident to occur. He pointed out that there had been 26 fatalities in the last two years – 16 in 2020, ten in 2021 – which was a worryingly high number considering that the industry had been shut down during the pandemic and compared to 2018, when the figure was five. Resolve is needed to bring down the number of accidents on site. The involvement of stakeholders and initiatives like the construction safety partnership plan from 2022 to 2024 will be important to the industry’s future.

Michelle Quinn, co-chair of the construction safety partnership advisory committee and Industrial Official at Siptu, reminded the audience that the role of safety representative was the only one with a statutory footing and that Covid had reminded people of the importance of safety in the broader landscape. “The real measure of success is how many people go home safely every day. Every person who is a fatality or suffers a life-changing injury is one person too many, so [we need] a renewed vigour in making sure everyone creates a safe working environment.”

The mental health of workers and leaders was covered in a panel discussion on the improvement of psychological safety in the workplace. The panel, which included Niamh Gilmore, group health and wellbeing coordinator for Mercury, Colleen Milligan, regional ambassador for the Lighthouse Club and Niamh McNulty, health and safety manager for Coffey, touched upon several areas, with two of the most critical being active listening and using a non-judgmental approach. “We want to create a space where you feel safe to have any type of conversation,” said Gilmore. “There should be no judgment on the other side of the conversation.” It is a cultural transformation, with McNulty pointing out that the stigma around mental health, especially among men, was a significant challenge for the industry. The route toward companies changing this environment carried its own challenges but if there was buy-in across the board, from leadership to apprenticeship, it made a significant difference. “Slow and steady wins the race,” she said. “Nothing happens overnight when you’re trying to change the culture and you have to get the leadership and mentoring for it. They have to be on board and it has to be genuine.”

Colleen Milligan, who represented the Lighthouse Club, added that “Pychological safety relies on two elements: environment and behaviour of people. That’s what we have to do: change the culture. Communicate and ask those questions – what are your values? – because there’s no point having stand alone initiatives if you’re not getting the other things right,”

 The follow-up panel discussion on leadership behaviour highlighted the growing role this has in improving mental health.

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