Health and safety at work
Health and safety laws apply to all employers, self-employed people and employees in their workplaces. This includes fixed-term employees and temporary employees.
The main legislation covering the health and safety of people in the workplace is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (as amended).
It sets out the rights and obligations of both employers and employees. It also provides for substantial fines and penalties for breaches of the health and safety legislation.
Almost all of the specific health and safety laws that apply generally to all employment are set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007- 2020. You can find them and other relevant regulations on the website of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).
Health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic
Exposure to COVID-19 can present a health risk to you in your workplace. You can get information in our document on returning to work safely following COVID-19 closures.
Advice for employers
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has published COVID-19 advice for employers. There is specific advice for workplaces where:
- There is no occupational exposure health risk to COVID-19
- The nature of the work poses an occupational exposure health risk to COVID-19, such as healthcare and laboratory settings
Employers are advised to follow the latest public health advice and must:
- Identify measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection
- Implement suitable control measures in the workplace
Advice for employees
You should follow the official public health advice and guidance. Make sure you follow good hygiene practices to protect against infections. This includes regular and thorough hand washing and good respiratory hygiene. You can get some useful advice in this video clip.
You should contact your GP by phone, if you have symptoms of coronavirus.
For more information on the health and safety actions that your employer should take you can read the HSA’s general COVID-19 FAQ.
You can read about how health and safety laws apply when you are working from home.
Rules on health and safety
Employers have a duty to ensure employees’ safety, health and welfare at work, as far as reasonably practicable. To prevent workplace injuries and ill-health, the employer must take certain actions. These include:
- Provide and maintain a safe workplace which uses safe plant and equipment
- Prevent risks from employees using any article or substance, and from exposure to physical agents, noise and vibration
- Prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk
- Provide instruction and training to employees on health and safety
- Provide protective clothing and equipment to employees
- Appoint a competent person as the organisation’ safety officer
The duties of employees while at work include:
- Take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of themselves and of other people in the workplace
- Not engage in improper behaviour that will endanger themselves or others
- Not be under the influence of drink or drugs in the workplace
- Undergo any reasonable medical or other assessment if requested by the employer
- Report any defects in equipment or the place of work which might be a danger to health and safety
Risk assessment and safety statement
The law requires every employer to carry out a risk assessment for the workplace. This risk assessment should:
- Identify any hazards in the workplace
- Assess the risks arising from such hazards
- 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 include the details of people in the workforce who are responsible for safety issues. Employees should be able to access this statement and employers should review it regularly.
The HSA has published guidelines on risk assessments and safety statements.
Protective equipment and measures
The employer should tell employees about any risks that mean they need to wear protective equipment (such as protective clothing, headgear, footwear, eyewear or gloves). The employer should provide both protective equipment and training on how to use it, where necessary.
An employee has a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and to use any protective equipment provided. The protective equipment should be provided free of charge if it is intended for use at the workplace only. Usually, employees are provided with their own personal equipment.
You can find more information in the HSA's list of frequently asked questions about personal protective equipment.
Employers must take certain measures in regard to visual display units (VDUs), such as computer screens. These include checking the reflection and glare, the operator’s position in front of the VDU, and the keyboard and software used. Operators must be given adequate breaks from the screen. In addition, employers must arrange for eye tests and make a contribution towards the cost of prescription glasses, if required.
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 protect the employee’s rights to social welfare payments. It will also help employees regarding other rights that may arise as a result of an occupational accident.
An employer must 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 (HSA).
The legal responsibilities of employers in reporting accidents and dangerous occurrences at workplaces are set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No.3) Regulations 2016.
Health and safety leave during pregnancy
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 either be removed or the employee should be given alternative ‘risk-free’ duties.
If neither of these options is possible, the employee should be given health and safety leave from work. This may continue up to the beginning of her maternity leave. This is set out in Section 18 of the Maternity Protection Act 1994.
If a doctor certifies that night work would be unsuitable for a pregnant employee, she must be given either alternative work or health and safety leave.
Health and safety leave after maternity leave
When an employee returns to work after maternity leave, any risk to her because she has recently given birth, or is breastfeeding, should be removed. If this is not possible, the employee should be moved to alternative ‘risk-free’ work. If a move is not possible, she should be given health and safety leave.
If a doctor certifies that night work is unsuitable after the birth, alternative work should be provided. If alternative work cannot be provided, the employee should be given health and safety leave.
During health and safety leave, the employee is treated as if she is in employment. This means she continues to accumulate her entitlement to annual leave. However, she is not entitled to leave for any public holidays that occur during this time.
During health and safety leave, employers must pay employees their normal wages for the first 21 days (3 weeks). After 3 weeks, Health and Safety Benefit may be paid (depending on PRSI contributions).
Health and safety and young people
An employer should carry out a separate risk assessment if they are considering employing someone aged under 18. It must be carried out before they get the job. The young person should not be given the job if certain risks are identified. For example, this could mean risks that the young person cannot recognise or avoid because of their lack of experience.
Bullying at work
By law, employers must prevent improper conduct or behaviour, which includes bullying. An employer should have established procedures for dealing with complaints of bullying in the workplace and should deal with such complaints immediately. Ignoring complaints of bullying could leave an employer open to a possible claim by an employee for damages or compensation.
An employee who feels that they are the victim of bullying can also refer the matter to the Workplace Relations Commission – see ‘How to apply' below.
Guidance for addressing bullying in the workplace is set out in the Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (pdf.
Harassment at work
By law, all employers have a duty to prevent harassment in the workplace. Employees are entitled to bring a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission and the employer may be obliged to pay compensation if you are harassed because of your gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, religious belief or membership of the Traveller community.
Violence at work
The possibility of violence towards employees should be covered in the safety statement. For example, the safety statement should address factors such as the isolation of employees and the presence of cash on the premises.
Employers should put in place proper safeguards to eliminate the risk of violence as far as possible. They should also provide the employee with appropriate means of minimising any remaining risk (for example, security glass).
The HSA has published a booklet for employers on violence in the workplace (pdf).
Assault is a criminal offence under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. Being made to fear immediate assault is also an offence.
If you have been assaulted or threatened with assault at work by another employee, you should report the matter immediately to your employer. You can also report it to the Gardaí.
If your employer assaults you, report the matter to the Gardaí. You should contact your doctor or seek medical treatment for your injuries. You can also call one of the organisations providing support to victims of crime. You can apply for compensation by making a personal injuries claim – see ‘How to apply’ below.
Protecting your health and safety rights
By law, an employee must not be victimised for exercising their rights under safety and health legislation (for example, if you make a complaint about your employer).
This means that your employer cannot penalise you by dismissal or in some other way (such as by disciplinary action or by treating you less favourably than other employees). See ‘Complaints of victimisation’ below.
Health and Safety Authority (HSA)
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is responsible for enforcing health and safety at work. It provides information to employers, employees and self-employed people on workplace health and safety.
The HSA has a set of Simple Safety leaflets,
which are aimed at small retail or food businesses. The Simple
Safety leaflets are available in other languages. It also has a Short
Guide to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (pdf).
What payments are available?
Social welfare payments
If you have an accident at work, you can apply for Injury Benefit. This is a weekly payment from the Department of Social Protection (DSP) for people who are unfit for work due to an accident at work or due to an occupational disease.
Under the Medical Care Scheme, you can claim certain medical costs that are not paid by the HSE or covered by the DSP’s Treatment Benefit Scheme. You can find out more about these payments in our document on the Occupational Injuries Benefit Scheme.
Personal injury claims
If you have suffered an injury at work, you cannot get compensation from your employer under health and safety laws. But if you cannot settle your claim with your employer, or with their insurance company, you can make a personal injury claim through the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB).
The PIAB is an independent statutory body that gives an assessment of personal injury claims after workplace accidents. If the PIAB finds that your employer is responsible, it states the amount of compensation they must pay you.
All claims involving workplace accidents and personal injury (except cases involving medical negligence) must be submitted to the PIAB. You cannot take your claim to court before the PIAB gives you authorisation.
How to make a complaint
If you wish to make a complaint of victimisation or about your rights under health and safety legislation, you should contact the Workplace Relations Commission. Use the online complaint form at workplacerelations.ie.
You must make the complaint within 6 months of the incident. The time limit may be extended for up to another 6 months, but only if there is a reasonable cause which prevented you from bringing the complaint within the normal time limit.
Where to apply
During COVID-19, you can continue to the HSA by telephone, through their online contact form, or by email using existing staff email contacts. You are encouraged to contact the HSA electronically during COVID-19 as their staff are working remotely and they have limited access to post.