Skip to main content

Occupational safety and health legislative framework

General safety and health legislation was first introduced in the Republic of Ireland in 1989, in conjunction with the European Community’s Framework Directive (89/391/EEC), [1]. The Framework Directive was transposed through the Safety Health and Welfare at Work (SHWW) Act 1989, which was updated in 2005 to the Safety Health and Welfare at work (SHWW) Act. As well as the EU 1989 Framework directive, the Irish OSH legislation also, historically, partly reflects the Irish Barrington Commission report proposals of 1983 (‘Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Safety Health and Welfare at Work), which itself arose from the UK Robens Report of 1974. The Robens Report influenced OSH management. It advocated self-regulation greater consultation between workers and employers, this helped formulate regulatory strategies for health and safety at work and OHS legislation. [2].

The Irish SHWW Act 2005 applies equally to all workplaces in Ireland, including SMEs. What is a ‘workplace’ is defined in the Act. As well as normal fixed workplaces, the definition defines vehicles, vessels and aircraft as workplaces. The Act establishes the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) as the national statutory regulatory body responsible for the enforcement of health and safety legislation, the promotion of health and safety and for advising the government on health and safety legislation. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 imposes a general duty to provide information on occupational safety to workers in a formal manner in appropriate, language that is reasonably understood by the employees concerned. This Act also states that where an employee of another is engaged in work activities of an employer’s undertaking, that the employer shall take measures to ensure that the employee’s receives adequate information concerning these matters. Finally, where an employer proposes to use the services of a fixed term employee or a temporary employee, the employer shall, prior to commencement of employment, give information to the employee relating to any potential risks to the safety, health and welfare of the employee at work; health surveillance; any special occupational qualifications or skills required in the workplace; and any increased specific risks which the work may involve [2].

The 2005 Act sets out:

  • The requirements for the control of safety and health at work.
  • The management, organization and the systems of work necessary to achieve those goals.
  • The responsibilities and roles of employers, the self-employed, employees and others.
  • The enforcement procedures needed to ensure that the goals are met.

The Act requires every employer to:

  • Identify the hazards of the workplace.
  • Carry out and be in possession of a written risk assessment.
  • Put in place protective and preventative measures to eliminate the hazards or, if that is not possible, to reduce them to the lowest possible level.

The Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations (1993) which was updated in 2007, is commonly known as the General Application Regulations (GAR) and deals with 15 different aspects of work related health and safety issues. These are:

  • the workplace
  • the use of work equipment
  • personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • manual handling of loads
  • display screen equipment
  • electricity
  • work at height
  • noise
  • vibration
  • protection of children and young persons
  • protection of pregnant, post natal and breast feeding mothers
  • night work and shift work
  • safety signs
  • first aid
  • explosive atmospheres [2] [3]

Employers who breach health and safety regulations face a range of actions by the HSA. Failure to comply with the details of these regulations can lead to enforcement and prosecution action by the HSA [3].

HSA is also the national Competent Authority for a number of chemicals Regulations including REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation and Seveso II Directive. Its responsibility in this area is to protect human health (general public, consumers and workers) and the environment, to enhance competitiveness and innovation and ensure free movement of chemicals in the EU market.

National strategy and programmes

The current national strategy of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) (figure 1) runs from 2019-2021.[4]

The third and final year for implementation of this strategy is underpinned by our 2021 Programme of Work.

Figure 1: HSA
Figure 1: HSA

This strategy will be implemented in an Ireland that has returned to economic success, business growth and full employment. There are, however, uncertainties on the horizon, most notably the UK’s exit from the European Union, which could impact not just how businesses in Ireland operate at home and in Europe but also how the Authority operates in the near and longer terms.

New business models are evolving where services and products are exchanged in a global market and where workers are under increasing pressure to perform, often in the face of insecure contracts, increased deliverables and vulnerabilities such as age. The Authority must be fit for purpose and ready to meet citizen expectations in this fast- changing environment.

Ongoing challenges include safety in agriculture and long-term occupational health risks such as stress, manual handling and cancer. In implementing this strategy, the Authority will strive to address all opportunities and challenges while achieving tangible outcomes in occupational health and safety, accreditation, chemicals and market surveillance.

As a regulator, the Authority provides advice and support but also inspects and enforces. We will continue to offer enterprises a range of tools and supports to enable them to meet their compliance obligations and to ensure safe workplaces and business success. We will also continue to inspect those enterprises that we know are not complying and are high risk. Where necessary, the appropriate enforcement action will be taken. A robust system for reporting, data gathering and analysis will be put in place to better target those who are not complying.

Through the Irish National Accreditation Board, we will promote the value of accreditation in building citizen and business confidence in the quality and integrity of public and private services. We will also develop a national accreditation strategy that meets the needs of enterprises and consumers now and into the future.

As a public body that operates and regulates across a broad and diverse mandate, the Authority plays a unique role in ensuring the safety of workers, services, consumers and products in the private and public sectors. A key element of our strategy implementation will be to ensure that this unique role is demonstrated and communicated to our government and enterprise partners in order to maximise the benefits to society and the economy from accreditation and regulatory compliance.


Social dialogue

At national level

Occupational safety and health policy at national level is determined by a twelve-member, tripartite Board, with nominees from the social partners and other interests concerned with safety and health in the workplace. The appointment of the Board of the Authority of the HSA is a function of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005. The Board oversees the operations of the entire organisation, which operates from eight offices across Ireland: the Dublin headquarters and offices in Kilkenny, Athlone, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Sligo and Waterford [6].

At sectoral level

To help develop sound policies and good workplace practices, the HSA works with various advisory committees including the Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee (FSPAC) and the Construction Advisory Committee (CAC). Other partnerships led by the Authority include in relation to work related vehicle safety.

At enterprise level

The HSA consults widely with employers, employees and their respective organisations. The HSA technical experts are regularly co-opted to relevant national groups and set up ad hoc committees at an enterprise level to assist in the delivery of specific projects. The 2005 Act provides details for the consultation between employers and employees to help ensure co-operation to prevent ill health and accidents. Under section 25 of the Act, employees are permitted to select a safety representative to represent them on safety and health matters in consultations with their employer. If a safety committee is in place in an organisation, it can be used a vehicle for the consultation process. A safety representative may consult with, and make representations to, the employer on safety, health and welfare matters relating to the employees at work. The employer must consider these representations, and act on them if necessary. The intention of these consultations is to prevent ill health accidents identify problems and solutions. A safety representative does not have any duties, as opposed to functions, other than those that apply to employees generally. Therefore, a safety representative who accepts a proposal to deal with a safety or health issue could not be held legally accountable for putting the suggested proposal into effect. Safety representatives should be supplied with relevant technical information about risks, hazards, and precautions connected with articles or substances used in the workplace they represent. Safety representatives should also be informed of any changes that would affect existing risks [2].


OSH infrastructure

OSH infrastructure scheme

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is responsible for securing OSH at work, including compliance with consultation procedures. The HSA is a state-sponsored body, established under the SHWW Act 1989, and it reports directly to the Minister overseeing the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE). It is responsible for every type of industry, workplace and type of work both in the public and private sectors. This ranges from micro enterprises and SME’s, to large organisations with multiple locations and thousands of employees. The HSA has its own health and safety inspectorate responsible for inspecting and enforcing OSH legislation. The HSA is the national centre for information and advice to employers, employees and self-employed on all aspects of workplace health and safety. The Authority also promotes education, training and research in the field. The HSA and its inspectorate produce a number of publications, reports, Codes of Practice, guidance and tools which are available on its website. The Authority is set out in three divisions; Operational Compliance & Prevention, Chemicals & Prevention and Corporate Services.

Figure 2: HSA Organisational Chart

The HSA is a State-sponsored body which operates under the auspices of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE). Within this structure the Health and Safety Policy Section acts as a liaison mechanism between the HSA and the Department. The functions of the Section in this regard are;

  • To formulate and develop policy relating to workplace health and safety, including reviewing legislative requirements and "work environment" developments on an ongoing basis
  • To monitor and support the activities of the HSA.
  • To advise and inform the Minister and management of the DETE on matters relating to workplace health and safety
  • To interact with the HSA and other Government Departments, State Agencies and the European Commission on matters relating to workplace health and safety.

Figure 3: OSH Infrastructure

National competent bodies

OSH authorities and Inspection services

As previously mentioned, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is the national statutory body with responsibility for enforcing occupational safety and health law, promoting and encouraging accident prevention, and providing information and advice to all companies, organisations and individuals. The aim of the Authority is to make occupational safety, health and welfare an integral part of doing business in every Irish workplace [2] [3].

To ensure compliance with the legislation, the HSA seeks, primarily, to reduce workplace accidents by providing guidance and support to employers and employees. Inspectors of the HSA carry out reactive and pro-active inspections of workplaces. Reactive inspections may arise following an accident, incident or complaint. Pro-active inspections may be routine or targeted. The purpose of an inspection is to assist the HSA in carrying out some of the general functions assigned by Section 34 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and include:

  • Monitoring the implementation of, and compliance with, statutory health, safety and welfare requirements
  • Enforcing any relevant statutory provisions set out in safety, health and welfare legislation
  • Promoting, encouraging and advising employers and employees in relation to health and safety training
  • Promoting and encouraging measures aimed at the prevention of accidents, dangerous occurrences and personal injury at work
  • Providing information and advice on matters relating to safety, health and welfare
  • Promoting and encouraging the implementation of best practice methodologies and processes [2] [3] [8]

OSH services

In Article 7 of the European Directive it is stated that employers who do not within their enterprise make use of persons with the requisite expertise to organize safety and health preventive activities are to consult experts external to the enterprise for this purpose. This Article has been given widely differing interpretations in EU member countries, and in European countries outside the EU. The external experts in the Republic of Ireland are detailed below[1]. Article 7 of the European Directive states:

  • An employer shall designate one or more workers to carry out activities related to the protection and prevention of occupational risks
  • Designated workers must have the necessary capabilities and means
  • External services or persons consulted must have the necessary aptitudes and the necessary personal and professional means
  • Designated workers and the external services/persons consulted must be sufficient in number

OSH implementation in organisations starts by carrying out workplace specific risk assessments and implementing the improvements that the assessments have identified. These assessments must then be included in the undertaking’s safety statement and, where applicable, in the safety and health plans for construction sites. The safety statement should outline the safety and health responsibilities for all levels and in particular how they must all work together to ensure safety and health. Directors are given the authority to affect health and safety changes in the workplaces covered by the safety statement. The safety statement should start with the safety and health policy. This policy is the undertaking’s commitment to protecting employees’ safety and health. This policy should be specific to each workplace and employees should be consulted when it is being prepared and it should be reviewed regularly when there are changes in the workplace, workforce, organisation or method of work or substances used at work. This is then formally accepted as company policy. All business decisions should be in line with the health and safety policy. The board should be responsible for driving the safety and health agenda, understanding the risks and opportunities associated with safety and health and any matters that might affect safety and health. Although safety and health responsibilities can be delegated to senior managers the legal responsibility for safety and health still rests with the employer. Strong leadership is vital in delivering effective safety and health risk control. Employers are encouraged to involve their staff in the development and maintenance of safety and health [2]. One way of involving employees is through appointing safety representatives to consult with the employer on matters of safety, health and welfare at the place of work. A safety representative may consult with, and make representations to, the employer on safety, health and welfare matters relating to the employees in the place of work. The employer must consider these representations, and act on them if necessary. The intention of these consultations is to prevent accidents and ill-health, highlight problems, and identify means of overcoming them.

Compensation and insurance bodies

Under the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003, anyone intending to seek compensation for a personal injury (other than a personal injury arising out of medical negligence) must make an application through They are the statutory body which provides independent assessment of personal injury compensation for victims of accidents, including workplace accidents. Injuries is staffed with public servants with relevant legal, insurance and medical expertise to assess OSH compensation claims, with an established independent panel of medical experts throughout Ireland. Injuries and ill-health from work related accidents and illnesses are claimed for by employees using employer’s public liability insurance through the courts for civil compensation. The state also has a system of Occupational injury and illness benefits paid to those out of work. These are paid from the budget of the Dept of Social and Family Protection (DSFP) [9].


Other OSH bodies

There are a number of OSH professional bodies these include: The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH): IOSH was founded in 1945 and is the Chartered body for health and safety professionals. With more than 40,000 individual members, they are the biggest professional health and safety organisation in the world. The Ireland branch of IOSH was founded in 1982. Currently in the Ireland Branch there are five districts and five specialist sections. The Ireland Branch committee consists of the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary, Development Officer, some non-officer members, a representative from each of the districts and specialist sections [10]. National Irish Safety Organisation (NISO): NISO provides information and services to help improve safety and the workplace. Their services include:

  • Providing leading information, advisory and training services
  • Promoting a culture of excellence in workplace health & safety
  • Playing a leading role in advancing the national health & safety agenda [11]

The Occupational Health Nurses Association of Ireland (OHNAI): OHNAI is the national body for Occupational Health Nurses who work either as individual practitioners or team members in a workplace setting. The association supports it's members in their role of:

  • Preventing accidents and ill health at work.
  • Providing care to employees through health promotion, health surveillance, rehabilitation and management of health and safety.
  • Working to ensure professionalism, quality and legal compliance in occupational health practice [12].

Education and training and awareness raising

One of HSA’s goals over the past number of years has been to raise the level of general awareness of occupational safety, health and welfare in the workplace amongst employers, employees and society in general. The education and policy unit of HSA through its programme, penetrates higher level institutions and their OSH related certificate, degrees and masters programmes [13].  The Health and Safety Authority believes that education is the key to fostering a culture of safety and health which will heighten awareness and keep young people safe and healthy in the home, school, community and workplace.

Legally required training for OSH specialists

There is a legal requirement for competent OSH persons and this is defined under Section 10 of the 2005 Act, but as there is no statutory register, anybody can set themselves up as an OSH consultant. Republic of Ireland: Regulation 8 of the 2003 General Application Regulations on Protective and Preventative Services states: ‘…a person shall be deemed to be competent where, having regard to the task he or she is required to perform, and taking account of the size or hazards (or either of them) of the undertaking or establishment in which he or she undertakes work, he or she possesses sufficient training, experience and knowledge appropriate to the nature of the work to be undertaken’ [2] [3]. These Competent Persons can be in-house advisers or a team of safety professionals, or the advice may be outsourced to external consultants. Employers must appoint one or more competent persons to perform safety functions. When appointing competent persons employers are required to give preference to persons in their own employment. Safety advisers must hold a Level 3 Occupational Safety and Health qualification. To become an environmental health officer (EHO) a BSc in Environmental Health is required. Postgraduate training programmes are available at various centres and institutes throughout the country. There are also a number of professional bodies detailed above which advocate membership and as a consequence many OSH professionals are members of one or more and adhere to their strict codes of conduct and ethical principles [10] [11] [12].

Other vocational training

The Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009 relates to the carriage of dangerous goods by road and by rail. It also applies to the carriage of dangerous goods by inland waterways. Safety advisers who deal with these issues are required to hold a vocational training qualification. These OSH specialists are known as Dangerous Goods and Safety Advisors (DGSA). DGSAs have to obtain a vocational training certificate (VTC) by undergoing training and successfully completing a written examination [2].

Awareness raising networks

All of the professional bodies mentioned, IOSH, NISO and OHNAI, are as well as professional OSH bodies awareness raising networks. Additionally the Irish Safety and Health Trainers Network Irish Safety and Health Trainers Network ISHTN is an independent not for profit voluntary organisation that supports and develop members providing health and safety training [10] [11] [12] [14].

ISHTN is an independent not for profit organization who want to ensure that all trainers involved in health and safety have the support to deliver training to the highest standard and ethical principles. All members adhere to their code of conduct and rules and regulations to ensuring that learners will be afforded the opportunity of participating in training which is being carried out to the highest standard and meeting the specific needs of all learners [14].

Specialized technical, medical and scientific institutions

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) is a charity committed to improving health at work. It is the professional and educational body for occupational medicine in Ireland and is a Faculty of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland. As such, it seeks to ensure the highest standards in the practice of occupational medicine. FOM members work in partnership with other occupational health bodies to promote health and work in many ways. Their aim is for healthy working lives through:

  • maximising people’s opportunities to benefit from healthy and rewarding work while not putting themselves or others at unreasonable risk
  • elimination of preventable injury and illness caused or aggravated by work
  • access for everyone to advice from a competent occupational physician as part of comprehensive occupational health and safety services
  • providing support to the Faculty’s membership to raise the standard of occupational health practice [15].

The Irish Ergonomic Society (IES) is an interdisciplinary non-profit, non-political, non-union, organisation of professional people involved in the ergonomics field. The Society promotes the discovery and exchange of knowledge concerning the characteristics of human beings that are applicable to the design of systems and devices of all kinds.

The Society encourages appropriate education and training for those entering the ergonomics profession and for those who conceive, design, develop, manufacture, test, manage, and participate in systems. The purpose inherent in ergonomics research and application is to contribute to overall human well-being, including social and organisational issues, control room design, musculoskeletal injuries, human reliability, training, and health and safety, amongst others [16].

Research institutes

A wide range of institutions in Ireland provide third-level education. The university sector, the technological sector and the colleges of education are substantially funded by the State. In addition, there are a number of independent private colleges. Universities in Ireland are State-funded, but they are generally autonomous. There are 7 main universities in Ireland. These are:

  • The National University of Ireland (NUI) which is the umbrella university covering University College Dublin (UCD), University College Galway (UCG), University College Cork (UCC), and St Patrick's College in Maynooth.
  • The University of Dublin, which is generally known as Trinity College Dublin (TCD)
  • The University of Limerick (UL)
  • Dublin City University (DCU) [17]

The Work Research Centre (WRC) specialises in research and consultancy on key social issues, organisational change and technological developments. Established in 1988, WRC has established a strong national and international track record in state-of-the-art assignments for a wide range of clients by undertake leading edge research; developing useful and effective services and products, consulting and training and supporting policy-making [18]. Eurofound is the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. It is a European Union body, one of the first to be established to work in specialised areas of EU policy. Specifically, it was set up by the Council to contribute to the planning and design of better living and working conditions in Europe. Eurofound's role is to provide information, advice and expertise, on living and working conditions, industrial relations and managing change in Europe, for key actors in the field of EU social policy on the basis of comparative information, research and analysis [19].

Standardization agencies

NSAI (National Standards Authority of Ireland) is Ireland’s official standards body. They operate under the National Standards Authority of Ireland Act (1996) and are accountable to the Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. NSAI are the national certification authority for CE Marking and provide a certification service to enable business demonstrate that Irish goods and services conform to applicable standards. As Ireland’s Official standards body, NSAI aims to inspire consumer confidence and create the infrastructure for products and services to be recognized and relied on, all over the world [16].


Institutions and organisations

Table 1 Main OSH Institutions and Organisations in the Republic of Ireland

National OSH regulatory and advisory body Health and Safety Authority (HSA)
Government Department overseeing responsible for OSH Department of Jobs and Enterprise and Innovation
Professional organisation of OSH services HSA Structure
Insurance Bodies Injuries board
Key prevention institutes Health and Safety Authority (HSA)
Key OSH Bodies Institute of Safety and Health IOSH
National Irish Safety Organisation (NIOSH)
Occupational Health Nurse Association (OHNAI)
Awareness raising networks Institute of Safety and Health IOSH
National Irish Safety Organisation (NIOSH)
Occupational Health Nurse Association (OHNAI)
Irish Safety & Health Trainers Network (ISHTN)
Key professional associations Facilities of Occupational Medicine (FOM)
Irish Ergonomic Society (IES)
Specialised OSH Institutes National Universities of Ireland (NUI)
The University of Dublin
The University of Limeric (UL)
Dublin City University (DCU)
Work Research Centre (WRC)
Key standardisation body National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI)


[1] Eurofound, Retrieved on the 16th of May 2012, from:

[2] Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act, Number 10 of 2005 (19th of October 2005). Available at:

[3] Mulligan, H. Health and safety law in Ireland, London, CIPD, 2009.

[4] Health and Safety Authority (HSA), Strategy Statement 2019 - 2021. Available at:

Further reading

Health and Safety Authority (HSA) Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) - National Irish Safety Organisation (NISO) - Irish Safety and Health Trainers Network (ISHTN) -

Select theme


Hugh Jordan

Juliet Hassard

Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom.

Tom Cox

Ellen Schmitz-Felten

Taina Paakkonen

Richard Graveling