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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, although employees can also decide that a joint employer/employee safety committee should be set up. However, it is up to the employees at the workplace to decide how their representatives should be chosen.

 

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, chosen by the employees, and safety committees. Although safety committees are joint employer/employee bodies, it is the employees who decide whether they should be set up.

 

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.

 

In addition employees have the right, if they wish, to appoint a safety committee for the purpose of consulting with the employer on health and safety matters. The safety committee should have 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

 

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 when a safety inspection is taking place must also be given copies 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 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.

 

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, but no employee should be penalised if they leave their place of work because they believe such a danger exists or if they take other “appropriate steps” to protect themselves or others from the 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 and time off

 

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.

 

Key legislation

 

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005

L. Fulton (2013) Health and Safety Representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication prepared for worker-participation.eu)