Health and Safety Enforcement in Ireland

The recent annual report of the Health and Safety Authority gives insights into the enforcement of health and safety legislation in Ireland.

The functions of the Health and Safety Authority (“HSA”) are set out in section 34 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. These functions include overall responsibility for the administration and enforcement of health and safety legislation in the Irish workplace. The HSA monitors compliance with relevant legislation and can take enforcement action, up to and including prosecution of offenders.

Its recent annual report for 2018 gives a flavour of its enforcement activity over the course of the last year. In total, the HSA completed over 9,000 inspections and investigations under safety, health and chemicals legislation in 2018.1

The report outlines that the HSA’s focus on inspection and investigation continued to be risk based and evidence led. As a result, the highest levels of inspections and investigations were in the construction, agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale and retail and transportation sectors. It provided written advice in over 5,200 cases. It issued 450 improvement notices and over 500 prohibition notices.

In 2018, there were a total of 15 prosecutions for breaches of health and safety legislation. These figures are down on 2017 which saw 21 sets of similar proceedings. While 6 of the 2018 prosecutions were dealt with summarily in the District Court, 9 other matters were of a more serious nature and were prosecuted on indictment in the Circuit Court.

Fines imposed on companies ranged from €100 to €200,000. The highest fine was imposed by Kilkenny Circuit Court following a guilty plea to three charges under the health and safety legislation. In that case, an employee of a civil engineering contractor suffered personal injury when the company failed to ensure that a safe system of work was in place to protect persons working within an excavation from being struck by falling materials. A similar level of fine of €175,000 was imposed on another corporate by the same court following the death of an employee following a failure to properly manage work practices on a quarry face.

An individual employer received a prison sentence of 12 months, suspended for 12 months, from Letterkenny Circuit Court following a guilty plea to one breach of the legislation. He had failed to manage his undertaking to ensure that individuals at the place of work, who were not his employees, were not exposed to a health and safety risk. In particular, he failed to take precautions in relation to a crane working near overhead power lines, or to ensure that work was carried out safely and in accordance with relevant guidelines.

Following on from 2018, prosecutions have continued in 2019. In February, a fine of €500,000 was imposed on a manufacturer of concrete and quarry stone following a guilty plea to three separate breaches of health and safety legislation. In June, a utility contractor received a fine of €300,000 following a guilty plea to a breach of the legislation. The first custodial sentence for a breach of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 was also imposed on an individual employer. See our briefing here. All prosecutions followed fatal workplace accidents and demonstrate that while 2018 saw the lowest figure for workplace fatalities since the establishment of the HSA in 1989, there remains no room for employer complacency.

  1. The HSA also plays a role at national level in relation to the implementation of chemicals legislation under the Rotterdam Regulation.

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.