The main legislation providing for the health and safety of people in the workplace is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. This Act consolidates and updates the provisions of the Safety, Health and Welfare Act 1989. It applies to all employers, employees (including fixed-term and temporary employees) and self-employed people in their workplaces. The Act sets out the rights and obligations of both employers and employees and provides for substantial fines and penalties for breaches of the health and safety legislation.
(General Application) Regulations 2007: Almost all of the specific health and safety laws which apply generally to all employments are contained in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 which came into effect on 1 November 2007. These Regulations replaced the 1993 General Application Regulations and other secondary legislation in the area of health and safety at work.
Under Section 8 of the Act the employer has a duty to ensure the employees’ safety, health and welfare at work as far as is reasonably practicable. In order to prevent workplace injuries and ill health the employer is required, among other things, to:
The duties of employees while at work are set out in Section 13 of the Act. These include the following:
Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 every employer is required to carry out a risk assessment for the workplace which should identify any hazards present in the workplace, assess the risks arising from such hazards and identify the steps to be taken to deal with any risks.
The employer must also prepare a safety statement which is based on the risk assessment. The statement should also contain the details of people in the workforce who are responsible for safety issues. Employees should be given access to this statement and employers should review it on a regular basis. The Health and Safety Authority has published guidelines on risk assessments and safety statements (pdf).
The employer should tell employees about any risks that require the wearing of protective equipment. The employer should provide protective equipment (such as protective clothing, headgear, footwear, eyewear, gloves) together with training on how to use it, where necessary. An employee is under a duty to take reasonable care for his/her own safety and to use any protective equipment supplied. The protective equipment should be provided free of charge to employees if it is intended for use at the workplace only. Usually, employees should be provided with their own personal equipment.
There is a range of measures that employers must take in regard to visual
display units (VDUs). These include examining the reflection and glare, the
operator's position in front of the VDU, the keyboard and the software used.
Operators must be given adequate breaks from the VDU. In addition, employers
must arrange for eye tests and, if required, make a contribution towards the
purchase of prescription eyeglasses. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has
published a list of
frequently asked questions about display screen equipment (VDUs).
All accidents in the workplace should be reported to the employer, who should record the details of the incident. Reporting the accident will help to safeguard social welfare and other rights which may arise as a result of an occupational accident. An employer is obliged to report any accident that results in an employee missing 3 consecutive days at work (not including the day of the accident) to the Health and Safety Authority.
An employer should carry out separate risk assessments in relation to pregnant employees. If there are particular risks to an employee's pregnancy, these should be either removed or the employee moved away from them. Under Section 18 of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 if neither of these options is possible, the employee should be given health and safety leave from work, which may continue up the beginning of maternity leave. If a doctor certifies that night work would be unsuitable for a pregnant employee, the employee must be given alternative work or health and safety leave.
Following an employee's return to work after maternity leave, if there is any risk to the employee because she has recently given birth or is breastfeeding, it should be removed. If this is not possible, the employee should be moved to alternative work. If it is not possible for the employee to be assigned alternative work, she should be given health and safety leave. If night work is certified by a doctor as being unsuitable after the birth, alternative work should be provided. If alternative work cannot be provided, the employee should be given health and safety leave.
Time spent on health and safety leave is treated as though the employee has been in employment, and this time can be used to accumulate annual leave entitlement. The employee is not entitled to leave for any public holidays that occur during health and safety leave. During health and safety leave, employers must pay employees their normal wages for the first 21 days (3 weeks), after which Health and Safety Benefit may be paid.
An employer should carry out a separate risk assessment in relation to an employee under 18 years of age. This risk assessment should be carried out before the young person is employed. If certain risks are present, including risks that cannot be recognised or avoided by the young person due to factors like lack of experience, the young person should not be employed.
The possibility of violence towards employees should be addressed in the safety statement. For example, factors like the isolation of employees and the presence of cash on the premises need to be taken into account. Proper safeguards should be put into place to eliminate the risk of violence as far as possible and the employee should be provided with appropriate means of minimising the remaining risk, for example, security glass.
One of the employer’s duties is to prevent improper conduct or behaviour (which includes bullying). An employer should have established procedures for dealing with complaints of bullying in the workplace and deal with such complaints immediately. Ignoring complaints of bullying could leave an employer open to a possible claim for damages by an employee. It is advisable for an employer to have an established grievance procedure to deal with complaints of bullying. An employee who feels that he or she is the victim of bullying can also refer the matter to a Rights Commissioner – see ‘How to apply' below. The Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (pdf) sets out guidance notes for addressing bullying in the workplace.
The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011 place an obligation on all employers to prevent harassment in the workplace. Under this law, you are entitled to bring a claim to the Equality Tribunal and your employer may be obliged to pay you compensation if you are harassed by reason of your gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, religious belief or membership of the Traveller community.
Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 the employee may not be victimised for exercising his or her rights under safety and health legislation such as making a complaint. This means that the employer may not penalise an employee by dismissal or in some other way, for example, by disciplinary action or by being treated less favourably than other employees – see ‘Enforcing your rights’ below.
The Health and Safety Authority – see ‘Where to apply’ below is responsible for enforcing health and safety at work. It provides information to employers, employees and self-employed people on workplace health and safety. Its publications include a Short Guide to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (pdf) and a set of Simple Safety leaflets which are aimed at small retail or food businesses in particular. The Simple Safety leaflets are available in other languages.
If you have an accident at work you can apply for Injury Benefit. This is a weekly payment from the Department of Social Protection if you are unfit for work due to an accident at work or an occupational disease. Under the Medical Care Scheme you can claim certain medical costs that are not paid by the Health Service Executive (HSE) or covered by Treatment Benefit Scheme. You can find out more about these payments in our document on the Occupational Injuries Benefit Scheme.
If you have suffered an injury at work, you cannot seek compensation from your employer under the health and safety legislation but you can make a personal injury claim through InjuriesBoard.ie.
InjuriesBoard.ie is an independent statutory body which gives an independent assessment of personal injury claims for compensation following an accident. It will only give an assessment of compensation where the person responsible is not seeking a decision on liability, or, in other words, where legal issues are not disputed. All claims involving workplace accidents (employer liability cases) must be submitted to InjuriesBoard.ie before starting legal proceedings. All personal injury claims (excluding medical negligence) must also be submitted to InjuriesBoard.ie. It assesses compensation quickly but doesn't award costs for or against either party. If either you or your employer rejects the assessment the Board will issue you with an authorisation allowing you to make a claim through the civil courts.
If you wish to make a complaint of victimisation or about your rights under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act you should apply within 6 months of the complaint occurring. You must use the new online complaint form (available by selecting ‘Make a complaint in relation to employment rights’ on workplacerelations.ie). The time limit may be extended for up to a further 6 months, but only where there are exceptional circumstances which prevented the complaint being brought within the normal time limit.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.