In the last 20 years or so, an extensive body of legislation has developed on health and safety matters in the workplace, mostly precedent from European Union Law.

There are generally applicable rules, and also detailed directives and regulations dealing with specific sectors and situations.

The following is a summary of the main provisions of the three most important pieces of legislation:

  • Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 (as amended).
  • Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations, 1993 (as amended).
  • Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations, 2007 (as amended).

According to the 2005 Act, there are a number of duties on all employers to ensure the health, safety, and welfare at work of all their employees including:

  • Preventing any behaviour or improper conduct;
  • Ensuring that the design, provision, and maintenance of the workplace, means of access to and egress from the workplace, plant and machinery and any other articles are safe and without risk to health;
  • Providing planned, organised, performed and maintained work systems;
  • Ensuring the safety and the prevention of health risks relating to the use of any material or substance or the exposure to vibration, noise, ionising or other radiations or any other physical agent.
  • Providing and maintaining facilities and arrangements;
  • Identifying hazards, carrying out risk assessments, preparing a safety statement and ensuring that these measures take account of changing circumstances;
  • Providing information, instruction, training, and supervision as necessary;
  • Providing and maintaining such suitable equipment and protective clothing as necessary;
  • Preparing and revising appropriate plans, measures, and procedures in the case of an emergency or significant and imminent danger;
  • Reporting accidents and/or dangerous occurrences to the Health and Safety Authority;
  • Obtaining if necessary, the services of a competent person to ensure the safety, health, and welfare at work of employees.

The 2005 Act further provides that an employer shall appoint at least one ‘competent person’ to be responsible for health and safety matters in the workplace and that such competent person be allowed adequate time, without loss of remuneration, to enable him/her to perform such functions as may be specified by the employer.

This Act also provides that an employer must supply the ‘competent person’ information relating to:

  • Factors that are known or suspected by the employer to affect the safety, health, and welfare of his/her employees;
  • The risks, protective and preventative measures and activities in respect of the place of work;
  • The work carried out there, and the employer’s plans for dealing with emergencies or serious and imminent danger.

The employees may appoint Safety representatives from among their number at their workplace, and employers must notify the safety representatives when there’s a Health and Safety Authority inspectors visit.

A risk assessment and a safety statement must be carried out by Employers. Furthermore, the employer is obliged to review its safety statement where there has been a notable change in the matters to which it refers, or there’s any reason to conclude that the safety statement is no longer valid, or an inspector of the Health and Safety Authority directs that the safety statement be amended.

Employees also have duties under the 2005 Act, including:

  • Complying with the relevant statutory provisions and taking reasonable care to protect his/hers or any other person’s safety, health, and welfare at work, who may be influenced by the employee’s acts or omissions;
  • Co-operating so far as it is necessary to enable his/her employer or any other person to comply with the relevant statutory provisions;
  • Ensuring that he/she is not under the influence of an intoxicant;
  • Submitting to any appropriate, reasonable and proportionate tests for intoxicants, if reasonably required by his/her employer;
  • Not engaging in improper conduct or behaviours;
  • Attending such training and undergoing such assessment as may be reasonably required by his/her employer;
  • Making correct use of any article or substance provided for use by the employee at work or the protection of his/her safety, health and welfare, including protective clothing or equipment, paying careful attention to his/her training, and the instructions given by his/her employer;
  • Reporting to his/her employer any defect in the workplace or work systems; any article or substance; any work being or likely to be carried on; or any infringement of the relevant statutory provisions which may endanger the employees or any other person’s safety, health, and welfare at work.

Also, an employer shall not penalise or threaten penalisation against any employee who:

  • Acts in compliance, perform any duty or exercises any right under the 2005 Act;
  • Makes a complaint or representation to his/her safety representative, his/her employer or the Health and Safety Authority concerning any matter relating to the 2005 Act.

If an employee feels aggrieved in this regard, he/she may file a complaint to a Rights Commissioner of the Labour Relations Commission.

Whose decision may declare that the complaint was or was not well-founded and that the employer will need to take a specific course of action and/or will be required to pay the employee such compensation as the Rights Commissioner may deem just and equitable in the circumstances.

A decision of the Rights Commissioner may be appealed to the Labour Court, and a determination of the Labour Court is enforceable by the Circuit Court.

Civil liability for employers may arise at common law

A breach of the Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work Act. is not actionable in itself, but civil liability may arise.

The Health and Safety Authority polices all of the legislation on Health and Safety in the workplace. The infringement of almost any aspect of this legislation is a criminal offence, and the offenders can be prosecuted either summarily or on indictment. The Health and Safety Authority has an extensive website (http://www.hsa.ie/eng/) where you can find a list of all the regulations, along with news of developments.

Some of the areas covered by Regulation are:

  • Construction site safety;
  • Use of VDUs in offices;
  • Work Conditions on Fishing Vessels;
  • Standards for workplace equipment;
  • Risk assessment during pregnancy or night work.