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Worker participation refers to the involvement of workers in some way with decision-making in a business organization. Worker participation can take many forms. It can be either indirect involving employee representation or direct participation such as individual involvement. There might be a consultative council in the company where trade unions and management meet regularly to discuss points of mutual interest. Workers can be organized in quality circles and meet regularly in small groups to discuss ways in which their work could be better organized [1]. This article discusses the nature of worker participation in Ireland and how this translates to worker participation in Occupational safety and health management systems and workers’ participation. More information on the OSH system in Ireland can be found in this article .

Regulatory framework for worker participation

A number of European directives have been introduced enhancing national worker participation rights including the European Works Council Directive, the European Company (SE) Directive and the Framework Directive on information and consultation. The EU directive on information and consultation (2002/14/EC) gives employee representatives the right to be informed and consulted. The Directive on employee involvement in European companies was implemented in Ireland in 2006 by legislation titled the European Communities (European Public Limited-Liability Company) (Employee Involvement) [2]. The new rights have been implemented in stages: companies with 150 employees from 2006, 100 employees from 2007 and 50 employees from 2008. The legislation states that if 10% of organisations employees ask for information and consultation then the employer must start negotiations with the employees and unions (if they recognise them). They have six months to reach an agreement with fallback arrangements if the negotiations fail. Elected employees then make up an information and consultation forum, with between 3 and 30 members, and this forum should meet with the employer at least twice a year. The arrangements for choosing employee representatives is to be agreed by the company and its employees, if there is no agreement the fallback procedure is to provide an election where all employees can vote. Any employee with at least one year’s service can stand for election provided they are nominated by either by two employees or a recognised union. If the company already has agreements for information and consultation signed before the deadlines they can continue provided they meet some of the basic criteria set out by the legislation [3].

Worker participation

Procedures introduced in 2006 as a result of the EU directive on information and consultation, mean Ireland has statutory provisions for employee information and consultation rights. The Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Act 2006 transposes into Irish law the requirements of EU Directive 2002/14/EC. The Act applies only to organisations with over 50 employees. Its provisions are triggered by the employees making a request in writing either to their employer or to the Labour Court for an information and consultation process to be established. An employer can put an information and consultation process in place but this is not a mandatory requirement under the legislation. If employees do not trigger the legislation by requesting that an information and consultation process to be put in place, or the employer does not take steps to put such a process in place voluntarily, then no action to do so may be required on the part of the employer until such time as a written request. The process for establishing an information and consultation arrangement is triggered by a written request from at least 10% of the employees, where that 10% means the lesser of (i) 10% of the employees in the undertaking (subject to a minimum of 15 employees), or (ii) 100 employees. The written request may be submitted to either the employer or the Labour Court. If a written request is so made, the legislation requires that the parties agree to establish an information and consultation arrangement either by means of a negotiated agreement or under the default Standard Rules (a default procedure is provided for in the legislation) within six months of commencing negotiations.

For the most part employees are either represented through their unions, or not represented at all. The National Workplace Survey found (2009) that 47.3% are in organisations that are unionised. This equates to 36.3% in the private sector and 87.2% in the public sector [4].

Trade unions

Approximately a third of employees in Ireland belong to a union. There is one union confederation ICTU Irish Congress of Trade Unions this has 55 affiliated trade unions and covers both the republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There are more union members in the public sector compared to the private sectors. According to the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO) Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) in 2009, union members are[5]:

  • In the public rather than private sector
  • At middle-age rather than older or younger workers
  • Irish nationals more so than non-Irish nationals
  • married rather than single workers
  • in larger rather than smaller enterprises
  • marginally more women than men

Board level representation

Public bodies such as the Court Services and state owned businesses such as Dublin Airport, AN Post, CIE and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) have employee representatives on their boards, although privatisation means that the number of companies with employees at board level has fallen. Ireland has a single tier board system. Usually employee representatives – through their unions – have a third of the seats on the board, with one third representing Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) and one third being chosen Ministerial appointees.

There is no statutory requirement for board level representation in the private sector but some parts of the public sector are covered by legislation which gives employee representatives a right to seats on the board. Some private organisations have set up voluntary work council type bodies but these are not very common [3].

Employee representatives

The official Code of Practice on employee’s representation published by the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) [6] outlines the dominance of trade unions as the main channel of employee representation and defines employee representation as “formally designated employee representatives for that undertaking or establishment by trade union...." Union representatives can also be known as shop stewards or office representatives. These are elected by their colleagues who are members of the same union and must abide by their codes of conduct. The Irish Supreme Court states that whilst employees have a constitutional right to join unions, employers have a constitutional right whether or not to recognise or deal with the union. There is no mechanism in Irish law for an employer to recognise a trade union or its members. Whilst an employer cannot be forced to negotiate with the union, since 2001 unions can take their case to the labour court where employers can be obliged to improve their employees’ terms and conditions. The process is hastened by the 2004 regulations, and such cases must be resolved within 6 months.

Typically a union representative will have two roles [7]:

  • Representing the union members in the workplace – distributing material and information, collecting membership subscriptions and recruiting new members.
  • Taking up members concerns with the employer both on a collective and individual basis – taking up individual grievances and representing the employee in difficulties with the employer.

There is no statutory structure for employee representatives at workplace level, meetings of employees at a group level are only on a voluntary basis either on the initiative of the employer or union. This varies from case to case but usually happens due to collective bargaining at a group level.

Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining in Ireland is a voluntary process in that there is no obligation on either the employer or the union to enter into negotiations. This is termed "free" collective bargaining. Collective redundancy is the exception to this; the Protection of Employment Act imposes a legal requirement on employers to consult with workers' representatives Social dialogue in OSH [7].

Collective bargaining can be single-employer bargaining involving just one employer, multiemployer involves more than one employer or tripartite involves the government. Tripartite bargaining is very common in Ireland.

The economic crisis and ensuing collapse of the social partnership process in December 2009 meant the centralised pay bargaining system which held sway in Ireland for 22 years ended. As a result there are now essentially two disconnected collective bargaining systems, in the public and in the private sector. These are[8]:

  • The Public Service Agreement 2010- 2014 (the Croke Park Agreement) provides the context for public sector pay bargaining;
  • The IBEC-ICTU National Protocol for the Orderly Conduct of Industrial Relations and Local Bargaining in the Private Sector (the IBEC/ICTU Protocol) lays down principles for negotiation and dispute resolution in the (unionised) private sector. The Protocol was negotiated in March 2010, and reviewed and extended in February 2011.

OSH and worker participation

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 to the National OSH System Ireland 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 [9].

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires companies – so far as is reasonably practicable – to ensure the safety, health and welfare of their employees and to manage and conduct work activities in such a way which protects their safety, health and welfare. This requires proactive engagement in the management of safety, health and welfare through a National OSH system – Ireland. The main elements of a successful safety and health management system are outlined below [10]:

Policy and Commitment: Section 20 of the 2005 Act requires organisations to put together a Safety Statement and OSH policies which set a clear direction for the organisation to follow.

Planning: The organisation should formulate a plan which allows the fulfilment of its OSH policy as set out in the Safety Statement. An effective management structure should be put in place for delivering the policy. OSH targets and objectives should be set for all managers and employees.

Implementation and Operation: The organisation should develop the capabilities and support mechanisms needed to achieve its OSH policy, targets and objectives. These should be supported and sustained by:

  • Effective staff participation and involvement through appropriate consultation, the use of the safety committee where it exists, and representation systems;
  • Effective communication and promoting competencies which enable all employees and their representatives to play an informed role and make a contribution to OSH.
  • A planned and systematic approach to implementing the OSH policy through an effective OSH management system. The aim of which should be to avoid harm and minimise risks.
  • Risk assessment methods should be used to determine OSH priorities and set objectives for eliminating hazards and reducing risks. Where a risk cannot be eliminated it should be minimised through controls safety systems of work or finally Personal Protective Equipment.
  • Performance standards which are used for measuring achievements.
  • Visible and active leadership of senior managers develop and promote a positive safety and health culture.

Measuring Performance: OSH performance should be measured monitored and evaluated. Performance should be measured against the agreed standards to show where improvement is necessary. Active self-monitoring of both hardware (premises, plant and substances) and software (people, procedures and systems, including individual performance and behaviour) creates a measure of how effectively the OSH management system is working. Reactive monitoring allows the identification of the causes of OSH failures through the investigation of accidents, incidents or ill-health occurrences that could have resulted in harm. The objectives of active and reactive monitoring are to determine the immediate causes of substandard OSH performance in order to proactively develop programmes, initiatives and new ways of working to ensure the OSH failures identified don’t occur in the future.

Auditing and Reviewing Performance: OSH Management Systems should be reviewed to ensure continuous improvement. There should be a systematic review of performance based on data from monitoring and independent audits of the whole OSH management system in order to comply with the 2005 Act [9] and other statutory provisions. Performance should be assessed by:

  • Internal to key performance indicators
  • External comparison with the best practice and other organisations in their sector

Often larger organisations now report on how well they have performed on OSH in their annual reports and how they have satisfied their responsibilities with regard to implementing the Safety Statement. Employers also have a responsibly under section 80 of the 2005 Act [9] on ‘Liability of Directors and officers of undertakings’ which requires them to be in a position to prove they have proactively managed the safety and health of their workers. Data from this ‘Auditing and Reviewing Performance’ process can be used for this purpose [11].

Cross-industry level

Ireland has long-standing features that are supportive of process orientated participatory approaches to arrangements for OSH, including well-established industrial relations cultures in which the role of trade union representation, negotiation and consultation, as well as long-standing provisions for trade union appointed health and safety representatives are prominent, as is a relatively high trade union density and strong union bargaining power. As discussed although the latter features have been eroded somewhat in recent years their legacy is arguably still felt in terms of the OSH management culture, in larger unionised enterprises especially [12].

In Ireland Apart from trade unions, the main institutions to ensure the enforcement of employee rights are the Labour Court, NERA (the Labour Inspectorate), and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). The Health and Safety Authority, established in 1989, is tasked with regulating and enforcing OSH standards at all places of work across all employments.

Health and Safety Authority

The 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 individual employees. The aim of the HSA is to make occupational safety, health and welfare an integral part of doing business in every Irish workplace [12].

To ensure compliance with the legislation, the HSA seeks, primarily, to reduce workplace accidents by providing guidance and support to employers and employees. The HSA also promotes education and training and has a number of publications and guidance on worker participation in OSH [12].

National Irish Safety Organisation

Formed in 1963 the National Irish Safety Organisation (NISO) is a voluntary body representative of the social partners, Government, Employers' and Workers' Unions to promote OSH in the workplace. It is a not for profit, membership-based organisation with its secretariat in Dublin which supports a team of volunteers operating in eight regions. NISO's main drive is to promote the practice and knowledge of health and safety. It provides health and safety advice; organizes training courses, seminars, events and regular information bulletins on OSH in Ireland[13].

Figure 1: Key Elements of a Safety and Health Management (Source: Health and Safety Authority, Workplace Safety and Health Management, 2006.
Figure 1: Key Elements of a Safety and Health Management (Source: Health and Safety Authority, Workplace Safety and Health Management, 2006.

Sectoral Level

There are a number of committees for different for industrial sectors; these include the Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee and the Construction Safety Partnership.

Farm Safety Advisory Partnership Committee: Agriculture continues to be a significant sector in Ireland and reducing accidents in the sector remains a priority. In 2002, in order to involve the major stakeholders in the task of improving farm safety, Ireland set up the Farm Safety Action Group, which became the Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee. This involved primary stakeholders and those employed in the sector to assist in developing and sustaining a safety and health culture within the sector using a social dialogue approach. The Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee is a sub-committee of the Board of the HSA. It is made up of the following organisations[14]:

  • HSA
  • Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
  • Irish Farmers Association
  • Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association
  • Teagasc
  • FBD Insurance
  • Farm Relief Services (FRS) Network
  • Macra na Feirme
  • Farm Tractor & Machinery Traders Association

Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland

  • Irish Countrywomens Association
  • Irish Rural Link
  • Health Service Executive

Construction Safety Partnership (CPS): The CSP established over 10 years ago is an alliance of all the leading bodies involved in the Construction Industry. The CSP has played a leading role in many successful initiatives aimed at improving OSH in the Construction Industry. The CSP led the way in ensuring that the requirements for Safe Pass and CSCS were brought into statutory provision in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations. One area of focus is the site safety representative facilitation programme and continuing to provide ongoing advice and information for site safety representatives to support and develop further site co-operation between management and safety representatives [15].

Company level

The SHWW 2005 Act [9] 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 [16].

Employers must establish arrangements for securing co-operation and consultation with the employees in the workplace on OSH. These arrangements will develop and promote channels to consult employees on measures taken to ensure their health, safety and welfare and measure effectiveness.

Any consultation must be made to employees with enough time to allow employees to partake in discussions and to feedback on the matter which is being consulted on before any decisions at a managerial level are made and implemented. Enough information must be given to employees to allow then to fully participate in the consultation process. Employees views must be taken into account by the organisation as part of the decision making process [9].

Under the 2005 Act [9] [8] employees have a right to make representations to their employer on OSH matters and the employer must make possible this process. Actively supporting and promoting employee participation in all areas of the OSH management programme can facilitate this. By gathering knowledge and experience through continuous employee participation, the employer gains employees commitment and ‘buy in’.

Employers must consult in advance on anything in the workplace which can have an effect on OSH. For example consultation must cover:

  • Risk prevention measures
  • The appointment of OSH staff
  • Risk assessments on workplace hazards outcomes
  • Notifiable dangerous occurrences or accidents
  • The safety statement preparation
  • OSH information provided to employees
  • The appointment of OSH consultants or experts
  • OSH training
  • The introduction of new technologies and any other equipment/work methods that can affect employees working practices and OSH [11].

Indirect participation

Safety committees

Employees involved in the safety consultation arrangements, e.g. safety committee members, are also entitled to time off for training, without loss of earnings, so that they can acquire the knowledge to discharge their functions.

Safety Committees are recommendations are as follows[17]:

  • The size of the safety committee depends on the range and type of work activities and the nature and the range of hazards and risks. All major activities, especially in a large organisation, should be represented.
  • The role of the safety representatives is key and at least one safety representative must be a member of the committee.
  • Business should be conducted in an ordered and structured fashion. The officers (secretary and chairman) should ensure that the committee function effectively. Meeting minutes and reports should be clear with the purpose of aiding decision-making and to improve the possibility of having OSH recommendations considered and acted upon more readily.
  • There should be regular meetings and the employer must commit the necessary financial and staff resources and facilities, e.g. time off for meetings, access to OSH information and meeting rooms.
  • The senior management and employees should participate. Reasonable recommendations should not be ignored and should implemented as soon as possible.

Direct participation

Safety representatives

Section 25 of the 2005 Act [9] permits employees to select a safety representative to be appointed in the workplace to represent them in consultations with their employer on matters of health and safety and welfare in the workplace. Safety representatives have usually been employed in the organisation for at least two years. They are usually appointed through ballots or elections by the other employees and tend to serve at least three years.

A safety representative who accepts the position and its duties cannot be held legally accountable for putting any safety relating proposals in place. The duties associated with the position of safety representative include consulting with and representing Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) matters to employer with the intention of keeping workers safe, preventing accidents and ill health and identifying problems and the solutions to resolve them. The employer has a duty to consider these OSH matters and act upon them if needed. If there are any changes in OSH practices such as new work statement or changes in working practices which can affect OSH for example implementing new technology it is important that this consultation with the workforce takes place.

Other duties include carrying out inspections in the workplace. Safety representatives are able to inspect the workplace that they represent after reasonable notice or immediately when there is an immediate risk, or dangerous occurrence or accident has occurred (however they must not interfere with anything at the scene of an accident on obstruct the HSA inspector) [18][17].

The frequency of these inspections must be agreed with the employer and are determined by a number of factors these include; the range of work sites and nature of work activities, the size of the workplace and the number of employees, the associated hazards and risks and how changeable these are. Dependant on the size of the workplace a number of safety represented may be appointed and a plan can be developed with the employer for safety representatives to inspect manageable areas. During these safety inspections it is advisable that the employers’ representative such as the OSH manager/adviser is present to allow a meaningful discussion on OSH matters after the inspection.

Other duties include [9]:

  • Accompany an inspector carrying out inspections under Section 64 of the 2005 Act
  • be present when the inspector interviews the employee about an accident or dangerous occurrence at a place of work, at the inspectors discretion
  • Make OSH representations to the employer
  • Make written or verbal representations to inspectors
  • Receive advice and information from inspectors in relation to OSH
  • Liaise and consult with other safety representatives in the same or different places of work.

Safety representatives and committee members should be adequately trained to understand:

  • Their general functions and duties – These training courses are provided by trade unions and other organisations
  • This specific OSH systems and hazards of their workplace – this training is provided by the employer.

Safety representatives should be allowed reasonable time off (paid) to carry out safety inspections and training [18].

There has been a long history of worker involvement in Ireland through the unions. This has underpinned the culture of worker participation in OSH supported by the legislative framework. For effective implementation of OSH Management Systems organisations should develop the capabilities and support mechanisms necessary to achieve the OSH policy, objectives and targets. The OSH Management System should be underpinned by effective employee involvement and participation through appropriate consultation, the use of the safety committee and safety representatives allows all employees and their representatives to make a responsible and informed contribution to the OSH system.


[1] Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2012). Home page. Retrieved on 7 December 2012, from:

[2] Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community - Joint declaration of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on employee representation, OJ L 080 , 23.03.2002, p. 0029 – 0034. Available at:

[3] Fulton, L., Worker representation in Europe, Labour Research Department and ETUI, 2011. Available at:

[4] The National Workplace Surveys 2009, The Changing Workplace: A Survey of Employees’ Views and Experiences by Philip J. O’Connel, Helen Russell, Dorothy Watson and Delma Byrne, National Centre for Partnership and Performance, 201,0 Volume 2.

[5] Quarterly National Household Survey, Union Membership, Quarter 2 2009. CSO, Ireland, March 2010.

[6] Labour Relations Code, Duties and Responsibilities of Employee Representatives and the Protection and Facilities Afforded Them by their Employers, 1993. Available at:

[7] Ireland: Industrial relations profile, EIRO, 2009. Available at:

[8] A summary of key aspects of the deal is available in the Library & Research Service publication Research Matters, Available at: http://khiisa01/library/LibraryandCMS/Policy_docs/ResearchMatters.pdf

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

[10] HAS - Health and Safety Authority, A Short Guide to the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act, August 2005. Available at:

[11] HAS – Health and Safety Authority, Workplace Safety and Health Management, 2006. Available at:

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

[13] National Irish Safety Organisation (NISO). Retrieved on 16 May 2012, from:

[14] Farm Safety Partnership, Farm Safety Action Plan, 2009 – 2012. Available at:

[15] CSP – Construction Safety Partnership Programme of work 2012. Available at:

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

[17] Health and Safety Authority, Management and Leadership in Occupational Safety and Health, 2006. Available at: Health_–_A_Practical_Guide.pdf

[18] HSA – Health and Safety Authority, Safety Representatives and Safety Consultation Guidlines, 2006. Available at:

Further reading

HSA - Health and Safety Authority (2013). Home page. Retrieved on 12 June 2013, from:

HSA - Health and Safety Authority (). Safety representatives. Retrieved on date month 2013, from:

HSA - Health and Safety Authroity (). Name of the page. Retrieved on date month 2013, from:

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER): Managing safety and health at work, European Risk Observatory Report, 2010. Available at:

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker representation and consultation on health and safety: An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), 2012, Available at:

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, HealthyWorkplaces Campaign 2012-13 – Working together for risk prevention, 2012. Available at:

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Juliet Hassard

Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom.