A huge body of legislation has developed on health and safety matters in the workplace in the last fifteen years or so, mostly derived from European Community law.

Further legislation is expected in the near future. There are generally applicable rules and there are detailed directives and regulations dealing with particular sectors and situations. The following is an outline of the main provisions of the two most important pieces of legislation.

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989 General Application Regulations, 1993 (as amended)

*Update: Visit our expanded section on Accidents in the Workplace which covers both plaintiff claims and employer defence matters.

There is a duty on all employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees including:

• Providing a safe place of work and safe access to
the place of work
• Providing safe systems of work
• Providing and maintaining safe plant and equipment
• Providing information, training and supervision as
necessary
• Undertaking preventative risk assessment

Safety representatives may be appointed by the employees from among their number at their place of work, and employers must notify the safety representatives when Health and Safety Authority inspectors visit.

Employers must prepare a Safety Statement. They are obliged to carry out far-reaching consultation with and participation by their workers in health and safety matters. They must train their staff.

Civil liability for employers may arise at common law but breach of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 is not actionable in itself. Where the Regulation breached is derived from EC law, such as a directive, civil liability may arise. Legal advice should be taken where any doubt arises.

The Health and Safety Authority was set up by the 1989 Act. It polices all of the legislation on Health and Safety in the workplace. Contravention of almost any aspect of the legislation is a criminal offence and the Health and Safety Authority has the power to prosecute either summarily or on indictment. The Health and Safety Authority has an extensive website (http://www.hsa.ie/osh). A list of all the regulations is kept there along with news of developments.

Examples of some of the areas covered by regulation are:

• use of VDUs in offices
• construction site safety
• standards for workplace equipment
• conditions on fishing vessels
• risk assessment during night work or pregnancy