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Health and Safety Representation

Safety representatives, chosen by the employees, are the main channel for representing employees in the area of health and safety in Ireland, and it is up to the employees at the workplace to decide how their representatives should be chosen. It is also possible to set up joint employer/employee safety committees, provided the employer agrees.

Basic approach at workplace level

 

It is the duty of the employer to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees”. However, employers must also consult employees and/or their safety representatives to promote and develop the means to do this. 

 

Employee health and safety bodies

 

The main structures for representing employees in the area of health and safety are safety representatives, selected by the employees, and safety committees, which are joint employer/employee bodies. However, safety committees can only be set up with the agreement of the employer

Numbers and structure

 

The legislation permits all employees to select one safety representative to represent them in consultations with their employer in the area of health and safety. However, if the employer agrees they can select more than one. Guidance produced by the Health and Safety Authority in Ireland suggests that the number of employees, the type of work, shift arrangements and the number of workplaces should all be taken into account in deciding on the number of safety representatives, but there is no legal right to more than one. 

 

Where a safety committee is set up, it should have at least three members but no more than one for every 20 employees, up to a maximum of 10. It is a joint employee/employer body and, as the safety representative has a key role in representing employees in this area, at least one of the employee members should be a safety representative. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of safety committee members should be appointed by the employer. The number of employer-appointed members in relation to the overall size of the committee is set out in the table. In addition, the employer or someone nominated by the employer is also entitled to attend.

 

Total size of safety committee

Number of members appointed by the employer

3 to 4

1

5 to 8

2

9 to 10

3

 

Research by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in 2014 found that 67% of workplaces in Ireland had health and safety representatives and 30% had a health and safety committee. These are both above the EU-28 averages, which are 58% for health and safety representatives and 21% for health and safety committees. (The figures are for workplaces with five or more employees.)[1] 

 

These figures are well about national estimates, which suggest that only around a fifth of workplaces have safety representatives. In its annual report for 2016, the official Irish health and safety body, the Health and Safety Authority, noted that “21% of all inspections for 2016 found that a safety representative was present at the place of work”.[2]

Tasks and rights

 

The main function of the safety representative is to represent employees in consultations with the employer on health and safety matters.

 

Specifically, safety representatives must have access to information on:

  • risk assessments;
  • accidents, occupational illnesses and dangerous occurrences; and
  • the results of the application of protective and preventive measures required under safety and health legislation.

 

They should be informed, by the employer, when a safety inspection is taking place must also be given copies of any notices (instructions to take action) served on the employer by the inspector, as well as of any letters from the employer to the safety inspectorate confirming that the employer has complied with any health and safety instructions received from the inspectorate.

 

In addition, safety representatives have a right to:

  • inspect the workplace – the frequency of the inspections should be agreed between the safety representative and the employer, in the light of the hazards present and the size of the workplace;
  • investigate accidents and dangerous occurrences (as long as this does not interfere with an investigation being carried out by a safety inspector);
  • investigate complaints made by employees (after giving reasonable notice to the employer);
  • accompany an inspector carrying out an inspection at the workplace;
  • attend interviews between employees and an inspector, following an accident or dangerous occurrence – at the discretion of the inspector; and
  • make representations to and be given information by the inspector in relation to health and safety at the workplace.

 

Safety representatives are also entitled to consult and liaise with other safety representatives in the same company.

 

Safety representatives have the right to make representations to the employer on any matter relating to health and safety or welfare at the workplace. The employer must consider these representations and “as far as is reasonably practicable” take the appropriate action.

 

The employer is specifically obliged to consult “in advance and in good time” on the following issues:

  • any risk-protection and prevention measures;
  • the appointment and duties of staff with safety and health responsibilities;
  • the outcome of risk assessments on workplace hazards;
  • the preparation of the safety statement;
  • safety and health information to be provided to employees;
  • reportable accidents (those involving at least three days’ absence) or dangerous occurrences;
  • the engagement of safety and health experts or consultants;
  • the planning and organising of safety and health training;
  • the planning and introduction of new technologies, particularly their impact on working conditions and the working  environment.

 

This consultation can be with the safety representative, or with the safety committee.

 

Unlike in some other countries, in Ireland, there is no specific right for safety representatives or members of the safety committee to interrupt work if there is a serious and imminent danger.

 

Frequency of meetings

 

Where there is a safety committee, it should meet at least once every three months for no more than an hour and the meetings should be held during working time. (The precise arrangements should be agreed with the employer.)

 

Election and term of office

 

The legislation does not set out any specific rules for the selection of either the safety representatives or the employee members of the safety committee. This is left to the employees at the specific workplace to decide. The same is true of the period of office.

 

Guidance from the Irish Health and Safety Authority suggests that employees could either use their normal processes for choosing a safety representative or elect him or her through a ballot of all employees. It also suggests that a three-year period of office would be appropriate. However, none of these suggestions are legally binding.

 

Resources, time off and training

 

Safety representatives should, according to the legislation, have “reasonable” time off with pay in order to carry out their functions and also acquire the “knowledge and training necessary” to do so. The training should be paid for by the employer. However, the legislation does not define a specific length of time to be provided for either carrying out the functions of a safety representative or being trained.

 

The same rules apply to the members of the safety committee.

 

Protection against dismissal

 

Safety representatives may not be penalised for carrying out their functions.

 

Other elements of workplace health and safety

 

Irish health and safety legislation is not prescriptive on the numbers or qualifications of health and safety experts or occupational physicians required to ensure a safe and healthy working environment. The legislation (the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005) states only that the employer must “appoint one or more competent persons” to carry out the necessary health and safety functions.

 

The number of individuals appointed and time spent on the tasks must be “adequate” having regard to the size of the workplace and the nature of the risks. The legislation also gives preference to direct employees over external experts, except when the external experts have greater knowledge. But there are no set numbers of experts who must be appointed or fixed amounts of time that they must spend on these tasks. A “competent person” is defined as someone with “sufficient training, experience and knowledge appropriate to the nature of the work”.

National context

 

The ministry responsible for health and safety at work is the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI). The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is a statutory body responsible both for developing elements of health and safety policy and for monitoring compliance with health and safety law.

 

Trade unions and employers are able to influence health and safety policy through their presence on the board of the Health and Safety Authority. Both the unions and the employers have three seats, while the remaining members are appointed by the government to provide expertise and other perspectives.[3]

 

There have been no changes to legislation in Ireland to take account of psychosocial risks. However, in guidance provided on its website the Health and Safety Authority states: “The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, requires employers to put in place systems of work which protect employees from hazards which could lead to mental or physical ill-health. There is an obligation on employers to risk assess all known hazards including psychosocial hazards, which might lead to stress.”[4] It has also published a tool to help employers recognise stress factors.

Key legislation

 

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005

[1] Second European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2016

[2] Health and Safety Authority: Annual Report 2016

[3] For more information on the national context see  OSH system at national level – Ireland by Ceri Jones, Juliet Hassard, Tom Cox and Patricia Murphy, OSH Wiki  https://oshwiki.eu/wiki/OSH_system_at_national_level_-_Ireland

[4] http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Your_Industry/Healthcare_Sector/Work_Related_Stress/

L. Fulton (2018) Health and safety representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Produced with the assistance of the Workers' Interest Group of the Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work (of the EU Commission). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.