Statistics on workplace accidents make for grim reading. While all employees at to some degree at risk of accident, according to the Health & Safety Authority (“HSA”), those who work on farms, the young, the old and men are especially so. Ireland continues to be above the EU average on workplace fatalities. Workplace accidents involve a wide range of costs and effects for both employers and employees. The HSA is the body with overall responsibility for health and safety at work and for ensuring compliance with governing legislation.
In light of this, the legislature has enacted specific legislation to provide for the safety of people at work, in particular the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts 2005 and 2010 (“the Acts”). The Acts apply to all employers, employees (anyone engaged under a contract for services and self-employed persons in the workplace, and sets out various rights, obligations and sanctions for breach. On foot of the Acts, specific health and safety provisions have been set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007.
- Comply with governing laws and take care for their own safety and health and that of others
- Not be under the influence of any intoxicant such that they could be a danger to themselves or others
- Cooperate with their employer with regard to safety, health and welfare at work
- Not engage in improper conduct that could endanger their own safety or health or that of others
- Participate in safety and health training offered by their employer and not to misrepresent their level of training
- Make proper use of all machinery, tools, substances, etc. and of all Personal Protective Equipment
- Report any defects, workplace behaviour or breaches of legislation which might endanger safety and health
- Report any disease or physical or mental impairment which might endanger safety and health
Employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare of their employees while at work. Employers have many broad obligations towards their employees:
- To provide a safe place of work and safe machinery and equipment
- To provide safe systems of work
- Provision of training and supervision
- Provision of protective clothing and equipment at no cost to the employee
- Protect from exposure to dangerous substances, noise and vibration
- Care in the selection of fellow employees and prevention of improper behaviour (bullying, harassment etc)
- Carry out risk assessments and prepare safety statements, and make the latter available for inspection
- Report to the HSA any accidents that result in 3 consecutive days work missed
In order to reach the standard of care required in each of its obligations, an employer must act as a reasonable or prudent employer would in the same circumstances. Employers also have duties to persons other than their employees. Depending upon the circumstances, the employer may need to appoint one or more competent persons to assist him or her to comply with safety and health legislation.
A Safety Statement is a written plan specifically identifying the hazards, risks, controls to be put in place, persons responsible and resources necessary to secure the safety of persons at work.
While there does not need to be any animosity, injured employees frequently report a significant amount of resentment towards the employer after the accident, particularly where the accident or its aftermath are poorly handled. Furthermore, the impact of an accident is often more widely felt, affecting both financially and psychologically family members, friends and others.
Common Workplace Accidents
- Slips, trips or falls
- Unseen or partially hidden hazards
- Falling objects including from height
- Collapsing walls, fences/gates, foundations or trenches
- Accidents involving machinery, driving or motor vehicles
- Injuries sustained while bending or lifting
- Exposure to temperature, electricity, pressure, or harmful substances
Bullying, Harassment, Stress and Violence
The term accident, if broadly defined, encompasses stress, bullying and violence related incidents in the workplace. An employer has a general duty of care to prevent bullying, improper conduct and stress in the workplace, and to deal with any complaints made. The safety statement referred to above also requires a risk assessment regarding bullying in the workplace. Proper safeguards should be put into place to eliminate the risk of violence. Bullying policies and grievance procedures are key.
The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011 oblige employers to prevent harassment in the workplace which occurs owing to a protected characteristic: gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, religious belief or membership of the Traveller community.
An employee who feels that he or she is the victim of bullying or harassment can also refer the matter to the Workplace Relations Commission (time limits can be extremely short for such an application).
If you have been caused to suffer an injury or illness at work through a breach of your employer’s duties, you can make an application to the Injuries Board and if necessary issue proceedings in the civil courts. The time limit within which to act is two years of the date of knowledge of the injury.
To learn more about workplace accidents or injuries, or if you have been involved in an accident or suffered injury in another manner, contact us on 01 832 7899 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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