It’s easy to get health and safety wrong, isn’t it?
Especially if you are an employer.
The employer’s duties for work safety in the workplace are very stringent and the primary source of these work safety obligations are contained in Safety Health &Welfare at Work Act 2005.
The general duties of the employer are set out in sections 8 to 12 and fall under the following headings:
- General duties of employers
- Information for employees
- Instruction, training and supervision of employees
- Emergencies and serious imminent dangers
- General duties of employers to people other than their employees.
The following are the main points of that act:
Workplace safety-Employer’s duties
• Imposes a general duty of care upon all employers to ensure the health and safety of all employees.
• This extends to ensuring: safe systems of work, preventing improper behaviour amongst fellow employees.
• In addition the employer’s duties include taking steps to prevent risk from all articles, substances, noise, vibration and radiation.
• Equipment must additionally be maintained in full working order.
• In complying with health and safety legislation no employee must incur personal expense.
• In recognising the evolving multi-cultural profile of the Irish work force, this section specifies that all health and safety notices must be displayed in a manner and language as is suitable to the requirements of the resident workforce.
• Training and instruction where provided must be in a manner which is suitable to the requirements of those at issue and without financial penalty incurring to the individuals concerned.
• Such training should be provided where appropriate upon recruitment, where a change of task is required and in instances where new work systems are put in place.
• All employers have a duty, to those other than employees, to ensure that that they are not exposed to risk.
• In accordance with the provisions of this section, employees are required to take all reasonable steps to ensure their own health and safety as regards both acts and omissions in the course of their duties.
• This extends to ensuring that they are not intoxicated whilst at work and to submit to an examination by a registered practitioner when this is suspected.
• Additionally there is an expectation that employees should make use of safety equipment when provided.
• Employees should also report any deviations from work practice, defects in equipment or machinery and refrain from misrepresenting the degree of training in the safe work systems previously gained.
• Employers shall identify all relevant hazards and accordingly draw up and be in possession of a risk assessment profile.
• This should be subsequently reviewed in circumstances whereby there has been significant change to provisions or where there is alternate reason to believe that the risk assessment is no longer valid.
• A safety statement should be in the possession of the employer. This statement should identify all hazards, assess the associated risks and identify the safety equipment to be provided.
• A contingency plan must be drafted to be deployed in the event of an emergency including the duties of specified individuals.
• Places an onus on the employee to report either directly to their employer or to a specified medical practitioner the onset of any illness which may materially affect the performance of their duties eg heavy machinery operator diagnosed with epilepsy.
• Employees may from time to time select from amongst their co-workers a delegate to act as a safety representative, more that one may be selected with the consent of the relevant employer.
• This individual may thereafter: inspect the work place, investigate accidents, and with notice to the employer investigate complaints from co-workers.
• As of right this individual is entitled, without loss of remuneration, to take a leave of absence to receive training pursuant to their duties or to discharge existing functions.
• An employer may not penalise, that is suspend, demote, reprimand etc for acting in compliance with statute, making a complaint based on health and safety non compliance or giving evidence in proceedings.
• Under the provisions of the Act, inspectors may be appointed to oversee compliance. Such inspectors will be furnished with a certificate of inspection as suitable form of identification.
• Inspectors so appointed will be endowed with the power to enter any workplace any time to inquire as to statutory compliance with the 2005 Act.
• This power is manifested in an ability to demand access to relevant records and where necessary take original copies.
• In circumstances where the inspector deems it appropriate, an improvement notice may be served.
• This notice will state the failure of compliance at issue, state the relevant statutory provision that this fails to adhere to, direct the individual to remedy this situation.
• Once the matters referred to have been remedied, the employer shall alert the inspector who shall on being satisfied issue a certificate of compliance.
• Where an inspector is of the opinion that at any place of work there is occurring or is likely to occur any activity which involves or is likely to involve a risk of serious personal injury to any person, the inspector may serve a written notice (in this Act referred to as a “prohibition notice”) on the person who has or who may reasonably be presumed to have control over the activity concerned.
• Where a prohibition notice has been served under section 67 and activities are carried on in contravention of the notice, the High Court may, on the application of an inspector, by order prohibit the continuance of the activities.
• Where an improvement notice or a prohibition notice is served, the person to whom it is addressed shall on receipt of the notice:
(a) bring the notice to the attention of any person whose work is affected by the notice, and
(b) display the notice or a copy of the notice in a prominent place at or near any place of work, article or substance affected by the notice.
It is clear from the above that the employer’s duties to provide work safety in the workplace are pretty demanding.
Criminal penalties can be imposed for serious breaches and this has occurred in the Irish courts. Any employer not taking his duties to provide work safety in the workplace for his employees is taking an unjustifiable risk, both for himself and his employees.