General Workplace Regulations
The Workplace Regulations provide for workplace standards. The standards cover the design, layout and features of the workplace. They prescribe facilities for the welfare of employees.
The current workplace regulations replace regulations first introduced in 1993. These regulations distinguished between workplaces used prior to 1st January 1993, which are subject to less onerous requirements and workplaces put in use or adopted, extended or converted after 1st January 1993. The 2007 regulations contain limited exclusions for pre-1993 workplaces. They apply many of the newer standards for the first time to pre-1993 workplaces.
The Regulations apply to a range of issues and aspects of the workplace, including lighting, heating, preventing falls and trips, restrooms, room size, sanitary facilities, movement, temperature and ventilation. The workplace includes its means of access. For example, stairs, ladders and other means of access are subject to the Regulations.
The Regulations apply to most premises, including offices, factories, shops and retail premises. They do not apply to certain limited categories of workplaces, including vehicles, boats, mines, temporary work sites (including some construction sites) and agricultural land. There are separate requirements for the excluded workplaces, in some cases under other legislation.
Employers must ensure that sufficient fresh air is provided having regard to the working methods and demands. If there is a ventilation system, it must be kept in working order. Breakdowns must be identified and remedied. Air-conditioning and mechanical ventilation systems must function in a way that does not subject employees to draughts or discomfort.
Generally, fresh air will be sufficient. Where manufacturing and similar processes are involved, artificial ventilation may be required. The particular requirements depend on the nature of the building, the number of occupants, the physical activity and on the location within the building. Ventilation maintenance must include maintenance of the system so as to prevent disease. There are duties to prevent accumulations through ventilation systems which lead to Sick Building Syndrome.
An employer must ensure that during working hours, temperatures in rooms containing workstations are appropriate having regard to the manner of working. For sedentary office work, a temperature of 17.5C must be achieved and maintained in so far as reasonably practicable after the first hour’s work.
Where a substantial portion of the work is done sitting and does not involve physical effort, a minimum temperature of 16 degrees apples. The temperature in restrooms, rooms for staff, sanitary facilities and canteens must be appropriate.
There must be means available to those present, to measure the temperature at any workplace on the premises. The standard measure of the purpose of the Regulations is the so-called dry-bulb temperature at 1.1 meters above the floor surface.
Where work below the above temperatures is required, the employer must assess the risk and take the necessary measures to ensure health, safety and welfare.
The excessive effect of sunlight must be avoided in relation to windows and glass partitions, having regard to the nature of the work and the characteristics of the workplace.
Maximum temperatures are not specified, but what is acceptable will depend on the circumstances. 18 to 23C degrees is an acceptable temperature range according to the HSA guide for office work. 21 to 23 degrees is recommended.
Places of work containing workstations must be adequately thermally insulated bearing in mind the nature of the undertaking and any physical activity involved. This does not apply to places of work in use as such prior to 1993.
An employer must ensure that the place of work receives sufficient natural light, or is equipped with artificial light adequate for the protection of the safety, health and welfare of employees. Lighting installations in rooms containing workstations and in passageways must be positioned in a such a way that there is no risk of accident to employees. In places of work which the employees are exposed to special risks, artificial emergency lighting may be required.
Natural lighting is preferable to artificial lighting. Both may be required to some extent. The visual requirements of the employment are relevant. The light level should be sufficient to allow employees to work without eyestrain. Lights must be fitted in such a way as not to cause a hazard. Where appropriate, light sources may need to be insulated to prevent the risk of electrical fires.
Floors and Surfaces
Employers must ensure that the workplace building’s structure is sufficiently solid and robust for its use. It must be able to support employees, machinery and equipment on them, and any additional floor. Periodic checks should be made to verify that the building is not overloaded.
Slip, trip and fall accidents are a notorious risk in the workplace. Floors must have no dangerous bumps, holes or slopes. They should be fixed, stable and as far as practicable, not slippery. Where floors are likely to be unduly slippery, appropriate protective footwear and slip resistant surfaces should be provided. Proper cleaning and adequate maintenance are required.
Every place of work must be kept in clean. Accumulations of dirt, refuse, trade and other waste must be removed by a suitable method as frequently as necessary in order to maintain appropriate health and safety standards. Every floor in a workroom must be cleaned by a suitable method as frequently as necessary to maintain an appropriate level of health and safety. The required cleaning methods depend on the circumstances.
The surfaces of floor, walls and ceilings must be maintained and cleaned to an appropriate standard. Cleaning should be undertaken by suitable methods, without risk to health or safety
Organisations with well-recorded maintenance and cleaning systems are less likely to be liable, in the event of civil litigation. Slips, trips and falls are a very common source of civil liability claims both by employees and members of the public. Commonly, the business is found liable as a result of failure to have adequate systems and failure to clean up within a reasonable time.
Walls, Floors, Ceilings, Windows I
Access to roofs and suspended ceilings made of materials of insufficient strength to support weight is not permitted unless equipment is provided to ensure that the work can be carried out safely and appropriate warning signs are provided.
If work can be carried out without going onto fragile surfaces, this must be done. Otherwise protective measures are required such as ladders and crawling boards. Warning notices must be posted where there is access to any such area.
Transparent or translucent walls and doors in rooms near workstations and traffic routes must be clearly indicated and made of safe material. They must be shielded so as to prevent employees from coming into contact with them, should they shatter.
Walls, Floors, Ceilings, Windows II
Where it is possible for employees to open, close or adjust or secure windows, skylights or ventilators, employers must ensure that this may be done safely. When open, they must not be positioned so as to be a hazard to employees.
Windows and skylights must be capable of being cleaned without risk to the safety and welfare of those carrying out the work. Suitable equipment must, in effect, be provided to open and close windows from secure areas or floor level. The age, design, and location will determine the most appropriate method of cleaning. Use of ladder and harnesses may be acceptable, but they must be reviewed. If safer options are available, they must be used.
Doors and Gates
The position, number and dimensions of doors and gates and the materials used in their construction should be determined by the nature and use of the area concerned and by health safety and welfare considerations. Swing doors and gates must be transparent and have see-through panels. Transparent doors must be appropriately marked at conspicuous level. If they are not made of safety material, they should be protected against breakage.
Sliding doors and gates must be fitted with safety devices to prevent them from being derailed or falling over. Door and gate openings require an efficient mechanism to ensure that they fall back. Doors and gates for pedestrian traffic in the immediate vicinity of gates intended for vehicular traffic must be clearly marked.
Mechanical doors and gates must function in a way that minimises the risk of accident, are identifiable and has adequate emergency shutdown. They must be capable of being operated manually where they operate as an emergency exit or where there is a volume of traffic which creates a risk. Separate pedestrian and vehicular routes should be provided at exits and entrances.
Pedestrian and Vehicular Routes I
Employers must ensure that both internal and external places of work are organised so that vehicles and pedestrians can circulate safely. Traffic routes including stairs, fixed ladders and loading bays must be designed and located so as to ensure easy, safe and appropriate access for pedestrians or vehicles. They must not endanger employees working near the routes.
Routes used for pedestrian traffic or goods must be dimensioned according to the number of potential users and the type of business concerned. Sufficient clearance must be provided for pedestrians if means of transport are used on the routes. Sufficient clearance must be allowed between traffic routes and doors and gates, passages for pedestrians, corridors and staircases. Pedestrian routes and traffic routes must be clearly identified.
If the place of work contains danger areas in which, owing to the nature of the work, there is a risk of an employee or objects falling, they must be equipped, as far as possible, with devices preventing unauthorised employees from entering those areas, and clearly indicated. Appropriate measures must be taken to prevent employees who are not authorised from entering the dangerous area.
Pedestrian and Vehicular Routes II
Barriers should be placed outside doorways giving access to roadways used by vehicles. Pedestrian crossings should be marked out as appropriate. Vehicles should be provided with flashing lights and reversing alarms as a means of warning. Passages should be adequately lit near buildings, in junctions, pedestrian areas and where there is regular movement.
An employer must ensure that escalators and travelators function safely, are equipped with any necessary safety devices, and are fitted with easily identifiable and accessible emergency shutdown devices.
Loading bays must be suitable for the dimension of the loads to be transported. The loading ramps must not pose a danger. Loading bays must have at least one exit point. loading bays longer than the width of five vehicles must have an exit point at each end where technically feasible. Alternatively, an appropriate refuge must be provided which may be used to avoid the persons becoming stuck or crushed by a vehicle.
Workspaces and Seats I
Employers must ensure that workrooms have sufficient area, height and air space to allow employees to perform their work without risk to safety health and welfare. They must ensure that the dimensions of free, unoccupied areas and workstations are calculated to allow employees sufficient freedom of movement to perform their work. Where this is not possible for good reasons, the employee must be provided with sufficient freedom of movement near his or her workstation.
The relevant guides suggest that 4.65 cubic metres should be provided of workplace for each person employed in a room including the area occupied by the office desk and chair, but excluding filing cabinets and other office furniture. In a room other than an office, at least 11.5 cubic metres should be provided for a person at work at one time. When calculating the volume, no space more than 4.3 meters in the floor should be counted.
Workspaces and Seats II
Where employees have reasonable opportunities for sitting without detriment to work or where a substantial proportion of the work can be done properly sitting, suitable facilities for sitting must be provided. If this is not practicable, employees must be otherwise ergonomically supported. Long periods of standing can lead to medical complications including back pain, varicose vein, sore feet and stiffness. Foot rails, elbow supports and foot rests may be appropriate ergonomic support.
For employees seated for long periods, there should be the ability to stand up and move from time to time. Conversely, for those standing for long periods, there should be the ability to sit down from time to time. The HSA recommends ergonomic chairs and variable height benches for production workers in order, to avoid excessive bending.
References and Sources
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 www.hsa.ie
Health and Safety Executive (UK) www.hse.gov.uk
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)