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Your Employer’s Responsibilities Regarding Accidents in the Workplace

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In Ireland, employer’s responsibilities regarding workplace safety and accident prevention is mandated by The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. In the following guide, we explore the key aspects of this Act, the requirements for both employers and employees, and the consequences of failure to adhere with the legislation.

What does the Act have to say about the general duties of the employer?

Section 8 of the Act outlines the general duties of employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health, and welfare at work of their employees. This includes preventing risks to safety and health, providing safe systems of work, information, training and supervision, maintaining facilities and equipment, and preparing for emergencies. Employers are also required to consider the safety and health of people not employed by them but who may be affected by their work activities.

Are there steps I need to take to ensure I am compliant with the Act too?

Yes. Section 9 of the Act specifies that employees must take reasonable care for their own safety, health, and welfare, and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work. Employees must cooperate with their employer to enable compliance with health and safety laws, follow appropriate instructions, and not misuse or interfere with anything provided for safety, health, or welfare. Employees are also expected to report any work-related injury, illness, or dangerous conditions to their employer.

What is my employer’s responsibility in terms of providing supervision?

This is covered in section 10 of the Act which outlines how employers must ensure that their employees receive adequate supervision. Supervision must consider the capabilities, training, knowledge, and experience of the employees, and the nature of the work to be performed. The aim is to prevent improper conduct or behaviour that could put the safety, health, and welfare of employees at risk. The level of supervision provided should be appropriate to ensure that work is carried out safely and without risk to health. Should an accident occur in the workplace where there was a failure to provide an adequate level of supervision, the injured employee is likely to have strong grounds to bring a personal injury claim.

What responsibilities do employers have in terms of preparing for emergencies?

Section 11 of the Act mandates employers to prepare and revise adequate plans and procedures for dealing with emergencies and serious dangers at work. This includes providing the necessary measures for firefighting and the evacuation of the workplace, with careful consideration given to the type of work being conducted and the size of the workforce. Employers must also designate employees to implement these plans and procedures when emergencies occur, ensuring that these employees receive appropriate training and have access to the necessary equipment to respond effectively to emergencies. Failure to comply with this section of the Act can have very serious consequences for an employer.

Does an employer have a responsibility to me if I am injured on their premises but not a member of their staff?

Yes, they do. Section 12 of the Act extends an employer’s duty of care to individuals other than their employees. It requires employers to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that individuals not in their employment who may be affected by their activities are not exposed to risks to their safety, health, or welfare. This includes visitors, contractors, and the general public who could be impacted by the work being carried out. Employers must manage and conduct all work activities to prevent any such risks.

What protective and preventative measures must employers enact to protect employees?

This is covered in part 3 of the Act which emphasises the importance of risk assessment as a foundational tool for identifying hazards and assessing risks in the workplace. Based on the risk assessment, employers are required to implement suitable protective and preventive measures to control risks. This includes the elimination of risks where possible, or if risks cannot be eliminated, reducing them to the lowest practicable level by putting in place safeguards.

Employers are also required to provide and maintain safe systems of work, including the management of work activities, the safety of machinery and equipment, and the safe handling of substances. Additionally, the provision of information, training, and supervision to employees is highlighted as critical for ensuring that work is performed with minimal levels of risk.

Part 3 mandates that these measures should be reviewed and updated regularly, especially following any significant changes in the work environment or in response to new information about potential risks, to ensure ongoing protection for employees. This part of the Act underlines the dynamic nature of workplace safety, emphasising continuous improvement and adaptation to changing circumstances.

What are employer’s responsibilities in terms of safety representatives and consultation?

Employers must engage their employees in matters of health, safety, and welfare at work. Part 4 of the Act outlines the mechanisms for establishing the selection of Safety Representatives by the employees, who will have specific roles in representing the workforce in consultations with the employer regarding safety and health matters in the workplace. These Safety Representatives are granted certain rights, including the right to make representations to the employer on safety and health matters, to inspect the workplace, and to investigate accidents and complaints.

Furthermore, Part 4 emphasises the importance of setting up a Safety Committee if requested by the Safety Representative or required by the employer, which serves as a forum for discussion and cooperation on health and safety issues within the company. The Safety Committee should include Safety Representatives and is tasked with facilitating effective communication and consultation between employers and employees regarding safety, health, and welfare measures and practices.

This part of the Act strengthens the collaborative approach to health and safety management, ensuring that employees have a voice in safety matters and that there is a structured process for engagement and consultation between employers and their workforce. Any failure to provide adequate consultation, or to appoint Safety Representatives, is likely to have serious consequences for the employer, particularly in the event of an accident in the workplace. This could include both civil and criminal legal proceedings.

What roles does the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) play in workplace safety?

The HSA is tasked with regulating and overseeing workplace safety and health, which includes providing guidance and information to employers and employees, conducting inspections and investigations, and taking enforcement actions when necessary to ensure compliance with The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

The HSA is empowered to issue codes of practice for improving the standard of safety and health in the workplace. It can also advise the Minister for Labour on matters related to occupational safety and health, including the formulation and implementation of policies and strategies.

Part 5 of the Act establishes the operational framework for the HSA, including its governance structure, staffing, and financial management. The HSA’s activities are aimed at reducing workplace accidents, injuries, and illnesses through a combination of regulatory enforcement, guidance, and support services, ultimately ensuring a safer working environment for all employees.

What are the potential consequences of an employer not complying with The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005?

A non-compliant employer faces serious consequences, including enforcement notices, fines, and potentially imprisonment. The HSA can issue improvement or prohibition notices requiring immediate action to rectify non-compliance. Non-compliance not only risks legal and financial penalties but also endangers the health and safety of employees, which can result in accidents, injuries, and damage to the employer’s reputation.

What should I do if I have been injured in an accident in the workplace?

Obviously, your first step is to seek medical help from your GP or at a hospital. As soon as you can, you should then inform your employer. Your employer is required to notify the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) of specific incidents. Should you be absent from work for more than three consecutive days due to an accident or injury, your employer is obligated to report your absence to the HSA, excluding the day the accident occurred.

What should I do if I feel my employer behaved negligently in the lead up to a workplace accident?

If you have been injured in a workplace accident, and you believe your employer might be in breach of The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, your next step will be to consult with an experienced personal injury solicitor. They will discuss the details of the accident with you, establish if your employer has breached their duty of care, and advise on the strength of your case for bringing a claim. At McCarthy + Co, our personal injury team has many of years of experience in bringing claims on behalf of employees who have sustained injuries at work. If you’d like to discuss the particulars of your case, call us on 1800 390 555 and an experienced member of staff will discuss your situation and potential next steps. You can also email info@mccarthy.ie and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is a seasoned solicitor with almost 20 years of experience, specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims, focusing particularly on high-value compensation cases. His extensive litigation experience spans Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court levels. John's practice involves a diverse range of cases, from personal injury and wrongful death to property damage, defective products, professional negligence and judicial reviews.

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