Workplace Issues

Building Regulations

Some of the Workplace Regulations replicate building regulation standards.  Building Regulations apply to new buildings and where there is any construction, alteration or a material change of use of an existing building.

The Building Regulations specify building standards on a number of levels from standards of construction to minimum facilities. They lay down minimum standards in relation to structure, fire safety, site preparation, materials and workmanship, drainage, ventilation, sound, heat producing appliances, hygiene, stairways, fuel conservation and disabled access.

On general civil liability principles, the employer will usually be legally liable for accidents that are attributable to the state and condition of the workplace. He has a common law duty to provide a safe workplace.  Where the accident occurs to an employee, the employer’s civil liability is more onerous, than that to other occupiers and requires him to take positive steps to make the workplace and the system of work safe.

Where the accident occurs on a third party’s premises and arises from the state and condition of the premises, it may be partly or wholly the responsibility of the third party who occupies and controls the premises.  An employer may also be liable in relation to an accident or incident on a third party’s premises. He may be solely responsibly or may have contributory liability together with the occupier.

Disabled Persons I

Employers must organise the place of work, where necessary, to take account of persons at work with disabilities. Regard must be had in particular, to doors, passageways, stairways, showers, lavatories and workstations.  The obligation to ensure that buildings are usable by persons with disabilities, should be given effect in so far as reasonably practicable.

The Building Regulations make requirements to accommodate persons with disabilities where works are carried out, new buildings are built or where works are carried out after 1st January 2001.  The requirement does not apply to existing buildings, unless new works are carried out.

The Employment Equality legislation obliges employers to provide reasonable accommodation and take appropriate measures to accommodate persons with disabilities.  They must be such that they give rise to no more than a nominal cost.  This limitation arose from a reference to the Supreme Court, which held unconstitutional an obligation which proposed to impose more substantial costs on employers.

Disabled Persons II

The EU regulations requires employers to take appropriate measures, unless the measures would impose a disproportionate burden on them.  In determining what is a disproportionate burden on the employer, regard is had to the financial and other costs entailed, the scale of financial resources of the employer and the possibility of obtaining public funding.

Equality legislation requires that employers  ensure that places of work are organised, so as to take account of persons at work with disabilities.

Equipment intended to prevent hazards shall be regularly cleaned to provide an adequate level of hygiene. They shall be monitored, maintained so that faults are detected, which are liable to affect health safety and welfare. They must be rectified, where required.


Where there is a lease or agreement between an employer and the owner of a premises, by which the owner is prevented from carrying out structural or other alterations necessary, to enable the employer to comply with health, safety and welfare legislation the owner or employer may apply to  court for an order. The court may make an order setting aside or modifying the terms of the lease or agreement, as it believes appropriate.

Where the whole or part of a premises are let as a place of work, and structural or other alterations are required in order to comply with regulations, then if the owner or employer alleges that the whole of the alterations ought to be borne by the employer or the owner, either may apply to the Circuit Court for an order under the regulation.

The court may make an order concerning the expenses and the apportionment of their cost, as it considers appropriate. In the alternative, at the request of the owner or employer, it may determine the lease on such terms having regard to the provisions of the lease, as the court considers appropriate.

Repetitive work and Ergonomics.

The general principles of health, safety and welfare at work require employers to adapt work, with a view to alleviating monotonous work and work at a predetermined rate in order to reduce its potentially adverse effect on health. Work should be adapted to the individual, especially as regards the choice of work, equipment and work systems, where possible.

In the context of cumulative trauma disorders and repetitive strain injuries, the legislation on the following is relevant

  • display screen equipment;
  • load handling;
  • working time;
  • stress, vibration; and
  • work equipment.

HSA Guidance on Ergonomics

The HSA has published guidance on a general approach to ergonomics.  Ergonomics applies information on human behaviour, abilities and characteristics to the design of tools, machines, tasks and equipment. The purpose is to promote or ensure productive, safe, comfortable, and effective human use.

The HSA recommends that designers receive training in ergonomics and that persons planning new work should have knowledge of ergonomics. Design strategies should seek to fit job demands to the capabilities and limitation of workers. Other aspects of design should be considered, including load design and the layout of the workplace, in order to allow ease of use of mechanical aids.

Repetitive strain injury has been recognised as a condition. It can be the subject of civil liability if it can be shown to have been caused by the negligence or breach of duty of an employer or another.  A number of negligence claims for repetitive strain injuries have been brought before the courts, in respect of various types of works.  In some cases, the courts have found that the employer could have organised an alternative system of work and was therefore in breach of his duty of care.

Confined Spaces I

There is specific regulation in relation to confined spaces.  A confined space is an enclosed area, which of its nature, creates conditions given rise to a likelihood of accident, injury, or harm so as to require emergency action due to the presence of vapours, flammable substances, gases, oxygen, high temperature, lack of oxygen or equivalent risks.

Confined spaces may arise in a wide range of situations and workplaces. Entry to a confined space is only permitted if there is no reasonably practical other way of achieving the requisite purpose.  Where there is no practical alternative to entry, entry is not permitted until a risk evaluation has taken place.

There are specific obligations in respect of work carried out under enforced and confined space where there is a reasonable foreseeable risk of serious injury. Detailed regulations must be observed. Confined spaces are spaces which are substantially enclosed, and there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of serious injury from hazardous substance or conditions within the space or nearby.  It can include silo, storage tanks, vessels, drains, sewers, vats, industrial chambers and poorly ventilated rooms.

Confined Spaces II

Risks can arise from lack of oxygen, poisonous gas fumes, fire, explosion, temperatures.  Consideration must be given to whether working in the confined space is absolutely necessary.  If it is then, better planning management or a different approach may alleviate risks.

It is necessary to appoint supervisors, verify competence, check the size of the entrance, ventilation, air, providing special tools, breathing apparatus, working in teams. Appropriate emergency procedures must be put in place, in case there is an incident.

There must be a system of work which is planned, organised, and maintained to ensure that work is safe and without risk to health.  In particular, steps must be taken to remove dangers, to provide competent training and supervision, removal and ventilation of dangerous materials, to isolate dangerous mechanical and electrical features and flammable substances. Protective equipment and communications systems must be provided are required.

Any person involved in carrying out the work must be provided with adequate information and training. Emergency arrangements must be made.  There must be a suitable and reliable means of raising the alarm and escaping.  Relevant equipment must be to hand.  Where resuscitation is required, the requisite training and equipment must be available.

There have been a number of prosecutions where persons have been killed or seriously injured due to incidents in confined spaces.

References and Sources

Irish Books

Safety, Health and Welfare and at Work Law in Ireland 2nd Ed 2008 Byrne Ch 43

Safety & Health Acts Consolidated & Annotated       2013   Byrne

Health, Safety & Welfare Law in Ireland        2012   Kinsella Ch 4,5

Health & Safety: Law and practice 2007 Shannon

Health & Safety at Work   1998 Stranks Ch 6

Civil Liability for Industrial Accidents 1993 While


The Health and Safety Authority

Health and Safety Executive (UK)

UK Books

Tolleys Health and safety at work, 2017 29th ed Bamber,

Corporate liability: work related deaths and criminal prosecutions 3rd ed. Forlin

Health and safety at work: European and comparative perspective Ales.

Health and Safety Law 5th Ed 2005 Stranks

Principles of Health and Safety at Work (8th ed) Holt, Allan St. John; Allen, Jim;

The Law of Health and Safety at Work 2014/15 (23rd ed) Moore, Rachel; Winter, Hazel;


Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 370 of 2016)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 70 of 2016)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 36 of 2016)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 445 of 2012)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 (S.I. No. 176 of 2010)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 732 of 2007)

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007)