Risks to the Long-Term Health of Irish Workers

tony mangan


EHS Consultant


Health can be defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. An occupational disease, meanwhile, is a disease where work may be a contributory factor.

In 2013, an estimated 55,000 workers in Ireland suffered from a work‐related illness.

Musculoskeletal and stress related ill health are the biggest risks to workers health and safety. About half of all illnesses are as a result of musculoskeletal injury, while 18% are stress related. Workers suffering from these illnesses are absent for longer than for other illnesses.

It has also been found that:

  • Musculoskeletal injury is more prevalent in construction, farming and healthcare.
  • Shift workers face a greater risk of both musculoskeletal injury and stress-related illness.
  • Women have a higher risk of work‐related stress illnesses.
  • The risk of work‐related stress illness is highest among workers aged 35–54 years. Younger employees cope better with stress.
  • The risk of stress related illness is the highest for workers in the education sector followed by those in health, public administration, transport and other services.

Apart from Musculoskeletal and stress related ill health, the biggest contributors are:


Contact dermatitis is the most common occupational skin disease in the UK and Ireland. It is an inflammation of the skin as a result of contact with detergents, chemicals, food, or extended periods in water. There are two types:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis which is caused by things that dry out the skin, such as detergents and water.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis is when a person develops an allergy to something they are in contact with (a sensitiser). This sensitiser causes the body’s immune system to over-react. Once someone has become sensitised, even a very small amount of the sensitiser will trigger a reaction. Common sensitisers include chemicals in cement, some hair products and some foods.


Work-related respiratory conditions are caused or made worse by breathing in substances that damage the lungs. The main respiratory diseases are occupational asthma, asbestos and asbestos related diseases.

Asbestos is now banned in the European Union so most cases of asbestos related illness are as a result of exposure many years ago. New cases mainly relate to exposure of asbestos in older buildings.


Noise induced hearing loss is the damage caused to ears as a result of excessive noise. It can be temporary or permanent, but it is always irreversible. Hearing loss is usually gradual. Exposure to noise may also cause tinnitus, a ringing in the ear. Regulations (2007) set down the minimum requirements for protection of workers from the effects of noise.

The Main Occupational Diseases Affecting Workers in Ireland

Disease entry method Occupational Disease/Illness Outcomes Employees at Risk
Skin Contact dermatitis Catering

Food processing



Beauty industry



Respiratory Occupational asthma Foam manufacturing (exposure to isocyanates)

Bakery workers

Medical staff (latex)

Hairdressers (hair dyes)



Vehicle paint sprayers

Asbestos related diseases Construction workers
Hearing Tinnitus

Hearing loss

Construction workers

Heavy equipment operators

Staff working in music and entertainment venues

All businesses are different. Larger companies may have more resources to reduce these risks, although small companies have implemented successful measures to improve their staff’s health. As in everything related to Health and Safety, the “Hierarchy of Controls” should be used to find the best solutions.

High quality risk assessments are a crucial first step to identify problems, and discover root causes.

Always remember, there are many more ways to keep employees engaged and aware of their risks and how to minimise them, including toolbox talks, online training, classroom training, effective communication, bulletin boards, newsletters and so on.

For help with planning or organising your safety goals, get in touch here.

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