The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 applies to all workplaces. What is a workplace is defined in the Act. As well as normal fixed workplaces, the definition defines vehicles, vessels and aircraft as workplaces.
The Act establishes the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) as the national agency responsible for the enforcement of health and safety legislation, the promotion of health and safety and for advising the government on health and safety legislation.
The Act requires every employer to:
- Identify the hazards of the workplace.
- Carry out and be in possession of a written risk assessment.
- Put in place protective and preventative measures to eliminate the hazards or, if that is not possible, to reduce them to the lowest possible level.
Every employer is required to have a written safety statement, which should set out the hazards identified, the risks assessed and the protective measures taken to protect the safety, health and welfare of employees. The statement should also set out the plans and procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency.
The safety statement should set out the names and job titles of persons with health and safety responsibilities. People with safety responsibilities are required to be competent. Competency is an important issue when appointing a person to a health and safety role. Competency is defined by reference to the training, experience and knowledge of the person carrying out the task assigned, having regard to the size and hazards of the undertaking.
When risks change, the safety statement should be reviewed.
Safety statements must be brought to the attention of employees and others who may be affected by the risks, for instance, contractors on site.
The Act provides that employers employing three or fewer employees can, if the HSA has approved a Code of Practice for a sector, adopt the Code for their sector as their chosen method of managing health and safety instead of drawing up a safety statement. The HSA has drawn up Codes for:
While adopted under a different provision of the Act, the HSA also has developed an Agriculture Code that farmers can use as a safety statement.
Additionally, the HSA has developed an online hazard identification and risk assessment tool for small businesses, known as BeSMART, which can be used by over 200 types of businesses to draw up their safety statements.
The Act imposes a range of general duties on employers, who are required to:
- Manage work to ensure the safety, health and welfare of employees.
- Manage work activities to prevent improper conduct. An example often mentioned is bullying.
- Design and maintain workplaces so that they are safe and without risk to health.
- Provide a safe means of access and egress from workplaces.
- Ensure plant, equipment and substances are safe and without risk to health.
- Ensure safe systems of work.
- Provide and maintain facilities for welfare.
- Provide information, training and supervision for employees in a language or form that they can understand.
All of these provisions are subject to the test: Are they reasonably practicable? The Act defines the term reasonably practicable. Basically for an employer to decide not to take a protective measure, they would have to justify their decision on the grounds that the cost of protective measure would be grossly disproportionate to the chance of an accident occurring or an illness being suffered.
Other duties imposed on employers are to:
- Co-operate where they share workplaces.
- Provide health surveillance for employees, if it is identified as being necessary.
- Consult with employees or their representatives about health and safety issues.
- Not penalise employees because of actions taken by them in relation to their health and safety rights.
Obviously, employees are entitled to expect that employers will take the measures necessary in accordance with the law to protect them from injury and illness.
Employees are entitled to be consulted on matters relating to health, safety and welfare. They are entitled to choose from among their number a representative to represent them in consultations in relation to health and safety.
Employees are required to:
- Comply with statutory requirements and to take reasonable action to protect themselves and others who may be affected by their acts or omissions.
- Ensure they are not under the influence of an intoxicant, such as drugs and alcohol including prescription drugs, so as to endanger themselves or others.
- Co-operate with their employer so that the employer can comply with statutory requirements.
- Attend training and instruction.
- Having regard to training and instructions, make correct use of articles or substances provided by the employer.
- Report any defects in the place of work, systems of work, articles or substances that might endanger them or others.
Employers who breach health and safety regulations face a range of actions by the HSA. The HSA may prosecute an employer or employee. If an employer is prosecuted in the Circuit Court and convicted on indictment, the employer may be fined up to €3m and/or sent to prison for two years. If convicted in the District Court, the employer may be fined up to €5,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 12 months.
The HSA also has available to it a range of lesser actions it may take. It may prohibit work where there is serious and imminent danger to health and safety by serving a Prohibition Notice on an employer. It may, in relation to less serious matters, serve an Improvement Notice.