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.
Laws on health and safety at work
The rights and obligations of both employers and employees in relation to health and safety at work are set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (as amended). This Act also provides for substantial fines and penalties for any breaches of the health and safety laws.
Many of the specific health and safety laws are set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007- 2020. Find details on these regulations on the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) website.
As an employee, your duties at work include:
- Taking reasonable care to protect the health and safety of yourself and other people in the workplace
- Not engaging in improper behaviour that will endanger yourself or others
- Not being under the influence of drink or drugs in the workplace
- Undergoing any reasonable medical assessment (or other assessment) if requested by your employer
- Reporting any defects (faults) in equipment or the workplace which might be a danger to health and safety
Employers must ensure their employees’ safety, health and welfare at work, as far as reasonably practicable.
To prevent workplace injuries and ill-health, the employer must:
- 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’s safety officer
Risk assessment and safety statement
Every employer must carry out a workplace risk assessment to:
- 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, based on the risk assessment. The statement should include details of people in the workforce who are responsible for safety issues. Employees should have access to this statement and employers should review it regularly.
Read the guidelines on risk assessments and safety statements from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).
Health and safety of young people at work
Employers should carry out a separate risk assessment if they are employing someone aged under 18. This risk assessment must be carried out before the young person gets the job.
The young person should not be given the job if certain risks are identified. For example, risks that the young person cannot recognise or avoid because of their lack of experience.
Health and safety leave during pregnancy
Employers should carry out separate risk assessments for pregnant employees. If there are risks to an employee’s pregnancy, these risks should be removed or the employee should be given alternative ‘risk-free’ duties.
If neither of these options are possible, the employee should be given ‘health and safety leave’ from work. This leave can 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 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 because she 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.
Your rights during health and safety leave
During health and safety leave, you are treated as if you are still in employment. This means you continue to accumulate (build up) your entitlement to annual leave. However, you are not entitled to leave for any public holidays that happen during this time.
During health and safety leave, your employer must pay you your normal wages for the first 21 days (3 weeks). After 3 weeks, you may be able to get Health and Safety Benefit, depending on your PRSI contributions.
Protective equipment and other safety measures
Employers should tell employees about any risks that require wearing protective equipment (such as protective clothing, headgear, footwear, eyewear or gloves).
The employer should give employees the protective equipment (free of charge if it is intended for use at the workplace only). They should also provide training on how to use the equipment, where necessary.
Usually, employees are given their own personal equipment, rather than equipment to share. Employees have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and to use any protective equipment provided.
Read the HSA's list of frequently asked questions about personal protective equipment.
Employers have responsibilities in relation to visual display units (VDUs), such as computer screens. For example:
- Checking the reflection and glare
- Checking the employee’s position in front of the VDU
- Checking the keyboard and software used
- Giving employees adequate breaks from the screen
Employers must also arrange for eye tests and make a contribution towards the cost of prescription glasses, if required.
Read the HSA's list of frequently asked questions about computer screens and display screen equipment (or VDUs).
Reporting an accident at work
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 (see ‘Social welfare payments’ below). It also helps employees regarding other rights that may arise due to an occupational accident.
the accident), the employer must report the accident to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). This is a legal responsibility set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No.3) Regulations 2016.
Read more about accidents in the workplace.
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.
Read more about these payments in our page on the Occupational Injuries Benefit Scheme.
Personal injury claims
You cannot claim compensation from your employer under the health and safety legislation, but you can make a personal injury claim through the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB).
The PIAB is an independent statutory body that assesses personal injury claims after workplace accidents. If the PIAB finds your employer is responsible for the accident, it will set 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 permission.
Bullying and harassment at work
Employers should have procedures for dealing with complaints of bullying and harassment, and they should deal with these complaints immediately. Ignoring complaints could leave an employer open to a possible claim by an employee for damages or compensation.
Read the HSA’s:
- Code of Practice for the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (pdf)
- Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work (pdf)
If you feel you are the victim of bullying or harassment at work, follow your employer’s procedures (these may be set out in your employee handbook or contract of employment).
If you cannot resolve the complaint with your employer, you can complain to the Workplace Relations Commission – see ‘Make a complaint about health and safety' below.
Violence at work
The possibility of violence towards employees should be covered in the safety statement (see ‘Employer’s responsibilities’ above). For example, the safety statement should address risk factors such as the isolation of employees and the presence of cash on the premises.
Employers should put safeguards in place to eliminate the risk of violence, as far as possible. They should also give the employee appropriate means to minimise any remaining risk (for example, by installing security glass).
Read the HSA's booklet for employers on violence in the workplace (pdf).
Assault at work
Assault, and being made to fear immediate assault, is a criminal offence under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
If you have been assaulted (or threatened with assault) at work by another employee, 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 also apply for compensation by making a personal injuries claim – see ‘Personal injury claims’ above
Make a complaint about health and safety at work
To make a complaint about your rights under health and safety legislation, contact the Workplace Relations Commission using their online complaint form.
You must make the complaint within 6 months of the incident. The time limit may be extended for a further 6 months if there is a reasonable cause for the delay.
Protecting your health and safety rights
By law, you cannot be victimised for taking action to access your rights under health and safety legislation.
For example, your employer cannot penalise you for making a complaint to the HSA about health and safety at work. Penalising could be dismissing you, taking disciplinary action, or treating you less favourably than other employees.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is responsible for enforcing health and safety at work. It gives 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.
Read the HSA's Short Guide to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (pdf), or contact them using their online contact form.