Health and Safety Law in Ireland
The History and Structure of Health and Safety Law
Health and Safety is covered by criminal law, which began to be placed on the statute
book in the 19th century, when it initially regulated such things as chronic overcrowding,
excessive working temperature and general poor health conditions. Over the years
that followed, a series of Acts, Regulations and Orders were passed which were in
the main both industry specific and dependant on the nature of work being undertaken.
Such laws were both confused and confusing.
The Barrington Report (1983), which addressed the issue of safety in the
workplace, concluded that the entire legal framework needed to be overhauled. In
the past the approach had been to identify an area of work activity which was patently
damaging people - through accidental injury and ill health - and to pass specific
regulations requiring employers to take certain precautionary steps. (This, indeed,
is how the more general framework of criminal law has grown by introducing controls
necessary for the proper regulation of a complex industrial society). However, by
the early 1980's, the host of specific regulations had become very complex and cumbersome,
with many legal arguments hinging on whether or not the worker injured was in a
factory, which left many feeling that only lawyers and judges could begin to understand
what was required of an employer.
The Barrington Report recommended that this host of rules be replaced with
a new over-arching statute, which obliged all employers (and the self-employed)
to protect themselves, their staff and others who could be adversely affected by
the work being undertaken. The intention was to supplement this piece of umbrella
legislation, which became the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989
(SHWW), with three additional levels: Regulations, Approved Codes of Practice
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989
TheSafety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989 is the major piece of health
and safety legislation in Ireland. It provides the legal framework to promote, stimulate
and encourage high standards.
An "enabling" Act, much of the text is devoted to the legal machinery for creating
admistrative bodies, combining others and detailing new powers of inspection and
enforcement. The National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) carries
responsibility for policy-making and enforcement, answerable to the Minister of
Employment. Its executive arm is the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), whose functions
range from enforcement to research and European liaison on standards.
A gradual replacement of previous piecemeal health and safety requirements by revised
and updated measures applicable to the whole of the workforce of the country has
been a feature of the past two decades. This overhaul has been done by the repeal
of statutes and their replacement with Regulations and Approved Codes of Practice
prepared in consultation with industry and workers.
One of the key features, echoed by European Directives, is the principle of consultation
at all levels in order to achieve consensus and combat apathy. This consultative
process starts with NAOSH, and continues to the workplace, where employers are required
to consider the views of workers in the setting of health and safety standards.
Regulations are intended to set specific targets or define particular processes,
which are required in law to be followed so as to achieve compliance with the main
Act. These Regulations can operate in two distinct ways:
- they can require employers to manage matters in a particular way; for example the
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations, 2001 lay down rules
for the management of building works; or
- they can set specific, practicable standards; for example the Safety, Health and
Welfare at Work (Signs) Regulations 1995 state exactly which type of sign is suitable
for fire exit routes.
Approved Codes of Practice (ACoP) spell out how employers can comply with
the Act and Regulations. It is not compulsory to follow an ACoP, but if you wish
to manage a certain matter in a different way the onus is on you to prove that what
you are doing is at least as effective in protecting health and safety.
Guidance provides additional useful information to assist in complying with
the law. As the guidance is not written in the legalistic way that Regulations and
ACoPs must be, the language is more accessible and the advice easier to understand
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Applications)(Amendment) Regulations,
The new general application regulations are Statutory Instrument No 299 and they
came into operation on 1st November 2007. However, they were amended on the 12th
The new Regulations present major changes to Industry and Commerce and require many
practices to be modified from the prior legislation.
The Regulations finally implement the full effect of the European Amendment to the
Use of Work Equipment Directive (AUWED). They also encompass areas such as Electrical
Installations, Areas where danger occurs due to explosions from a Hazardous Atmosphere,
Noise, Manual Handling, Display Screen Equipment, Working at Heights, Personal Protective
equipment and Vulnerable workers.
The new Regulations bring in new requirements for the Thorough Examination of Lifting
Equipment. For compliance, the Regulations recognise the advantage of a single type
of report no matter what part of Industry or Commerce the equipment is located or
in use. Frequency of Thorough Examination is now either 6 monthly or 12 monthly,
dependent upon duty. Only instances where Imminent Danger is identified will now
require copy reports to be forwarded to the Health and Safety Authority. There are
certain types of Lifting Equipment which are exempted from Thorough Examination
(Escalators, Conveyors, Platform Lifts up to 1.2m, Bottle Jacks, Pallet Trucks,
Load Testing requirements for Excavators used as Cranes and Mobile Cranes, are set
at 4 years and for Tower Cranes at each erection.
For additional advice, Please contact HSB Technical Department for more information.
Steam Boilers, Steam Receivers and Air Receivers are currently subject to the requirements
of the Factories Act 1955. These detail that the construction and fittings must
be suitable and give requirements for periodic examination and prescribed reports
to be used for such plant.
During 2009 a consultation process is being carried out with a view to amending
further. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment)
Regulations 2007 and revoking the Factories Act requirements. This will introduce
a new Part 9 covering Pressure Systems and will broaden the range of pressure equipment
subject to statutory requirements and periodic examination. It is anticipated that
any Pressure System containing a relevant fluid will have specific requirements
for design, construction, installation, maintenance and operation. Thorough Examination
periods will be defined depending on the type and duty of the equipment.
Until these new Regulations are finalised and enacted, we cannot be specific about
what will be required but HSB are keeping abreast of developments and will update
the website when possible. Please contact HSB Technical Department for more information.