Health and Safety Questions

A safety statement is a document which represents the company’s approach to managing health and safety.  It has to be site specific, true in all of it statements and needs to be updated as changes occur but reviewed at a minimum at least once a year. It should be a working document not just one that sits on a shelf.  Once prepared it has to be signed by Managing Director or owner and then communicated to all employees, visitors, contractors and others who might be affected by it.

Yes, it has been a legal requirement since 1989 and employers can be prosecuted if they do not have one.  Even single self-employed people (e.g. painters, decorators, tillers, roofers, gardeners, IT support people etc.) have to have one.  Farmers also have to have one as do small shop owners. No one is exempt.  It is not determined by the size of the business but by the nature of the hazards – you could have a call centre with 1,000 employees and risks overall could be quite low and equally you could have a roofing company employing 3 people where the risks are much higher.

Yes they can, there is no rule which requires them to use the services of a Safety Consultant.  However if they do their own then they must stand over it if it is found to be lacking.  Whereas if a Safety Consultant prepares it they have to stand over it.

They can bring in a competent Health and Safety Consultant to complete the statement or they may wish to complete it themselves.

There is no set format and each consultant will use their own format.  But each one should contain the following 8 parts:

  • Part 1               Policy statement
  • Part 2               Responsibilities of Management and others
  • Part 3               Management of Risk
  • Part 4               Fire and Emergency Arrangements
  • Part 5               Accidents, First Aid & Protection of Health
  • Part 6               Health and Safety Arrangements
  • Part 7               Appendices (to include Emergency Plan, Stress, Prevention of Bullying and other relevant policies)
  • Part 8               Risk Assessments

Within Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005 there is a requirement for every employer to have, where necessary, the services of a “competent person” and this is defined as:

“For the purposes of the relevant statutory provisions, 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 both 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”.

This competent person can be an employee within the business if there is someone suitably qualified or employers can bring in a consultant.  As a consultant myself  I act as the “competent person” to many of my clients who do not need a full time safety professional or who cannot afford one.

Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is the professional body for health and safety practitioners and consultants and is similar to Engineers Ireland (representing engineers) or IMO (representing doctors) etc.  Membership is granted on the basis of qualifications, experience etc. so all good consultants should be members and should use the designation: MIOSH or better still CMIOSH which means they are chartered members. CFIOSH denotes that the person is a Chartered Fellow of IOSH which is the highest level of membership available and is only available to those who are deemed to be senior practitioners in health and safety.  When you have identified a consultant to work with ask them three key questions:

  1. If they are a member of IOSH (if they are not then in my view alarm bells should go off in every employer’s head)
  2. Ask them about their specific experience in your sector of business to make sure they are a good fit and
  3. Ask them for evidence of their Professional Indemnity Insurance

In addition to being members of IOSH some consultants are also members of Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR) which again demands that they meet certain standards before granting membership. IOSH Ireland can be contacted here

A risk assessment is a careful look at the work activity that goes on in each business in order to:

  • Identify the hazards
  • Assess the risks
  • Determine who might be harmed and how badly
  • Then put in control measures to eliminate, reduce or control in some way those hazards actually harming anyone.

All risk assessments must be written down, communicated and then put into practice.  They will form an important part of the Safety Statement.

A hazard is anything that can cause harm e.g. electricity could shock or kill employees unless it is managed safely, chemicals might have harmful properties if they are not stored, used and disposed of in a safe way, a slippery floor on a wet day with no mats to take up excess water from feet as they enter a building is a hazard, an aggressive customer (e.g. in a shop or post office who might try to rob the takings) etc.

A risk is where employers look at the hazards they have identified and consider:

  • How likely is it that this can happen in the workplace?
  • How serious will it be (in terms of degree of injury or ill health)?
  • How many people might be exposed to the hazard?

Some risk assessments use a scoring mechanism from one to ten or they use colour coding to identify the really dangerous hazards that are highly likely to happen and that will have major consequences in terms of the level of injury or the number of people affected.

According to Health & Safety Authority’s Statistical Summary for the period 2011 – 2012 Manual handling related injuries continue to account for about one third of all non-fatal injuries reported to them.

Lifting, pushing, pulling and putting down loads of various kinds happen in all workplaces. Ideally if all manual handling can be eliminated then that may well solve the problem.  However this is rarely the case. If not again there needs to be a risk assessment of: what is being lifted, from where to where, by whom, the characteristics of the load (is it big, bulky, heavy, hot, cold, slippery etc.) and the conditions in which the lift is taking place (is it in a freezer, on a building site, is it the lifting of a person in a healthcare situation etc?)

Various control measures can be looked at including: arranging for the load to be dropped exactly where it is going to be needed, to save moving it at all, pump it in, gravity feed it in, use trolleys, hand trucks, pallet trucks, forklift trucks, conveyors etc. to move the item.  If all of these controls have been exhausted and there is still a risk, then Manual Handling training should be provided by a competent instructor.  Training on its own, with no other control measures, may not be enough to eliminate Manual Handling risks.  To view various guidance documents re Manual Handling click here 

Slip, trip and fall incidents were the second most common accident trigger and represented (18%) of all accidents reported to the Health and Safety Authority (source: Health & Safety Authority’s Statistical Summary for the period 2011 – 2012).

Slips can be caused by: poor lighting, uneven floors, slippery surfaces, unsuitable footwear, carrying a large load which blocks the employee’s view of where they are going, spillages etc.  Obviously when floors are being cleaned (and made wet) suitable barriers and/or signs should be put in place to keep pedestrians out, also cleaning if possible should be done in non-busy times and floors should not be left really wet etc.

Trips can be because of poor housekeeping, cluttered walkways or stairs, uneven floors, unmarked steps up or down etc.

Falls can be on the flat or from a height.  Even falling from one step up can be serious depending on how the person falls.

Again a risk assessment should be carried out of walkways, corridors, staircases etc. and how they are used to determine if enough has been done to prevent slips, trips and falls.

To view various resources re the management of Slips, Trips and Falls click here.

The old definition of work at height was that the person’s feet had to be two metres or more above the ground – that definition is now gone.  Within the General Application Regulations 2007 – Part 4: Work at Height it is defined as: work in any place, including a place at, above or below ground level, where a person could be injured if they fell from that place. Access and egress to a place of work can also be work at height.  Examples of work activities that are classified as working at height:

  • Working on trestles
  • Working on a flat roof
  • Erecting false work or formwork
  • Working on a ladder
  • Working at ground level adjacent to an excavation (near a cellar opening in a bar)
  • Working on formwork within an excavation
  • Working near or adjacent to fragile materials
  • Working in a vehicle where the person could fall off the back or side of it
  • Working in or over water where the person could fall into the water (lake, reservoir, fast moving river, harbour etc.)

Even standing on a chair in the office to reach a file on a top shelf is technically working at height.

Again a risk assessment needs to be carried out of all the circumstances where employees work at height with a view to eliminating it, controlling it and minimising the risk of falls etc.  All such work should be planned, organised and carried out by a competent person.  If work is taking place outside then ground conditions, wind, snow, frost etc. are key factors to take into account.

In essence all platforms on which people work must have guard rails to prevent falls. When using Mobile Elevated Work Platforms harnesses may also need to be worn.

To view Work at Height guidance and other resources click here

Fire poses a significant risk to the safety of employees and others who may be in the workplace. The Health & Safety Authority is interested in how employers are managing fire and emergencies while the Local Authority through the Fire Officer is primarily involved in issuing Fire Certificates and enforcing fire issues.

Again Fire needs to be risk assessed under the following headings:

  • What is the risk of fire?
  • What could cause a fire (use of electricity, build- up of combustibles, use of flammable substances, contractor work creating sparks, flame e.g. welding, other heat sources e.g. deep fat fryers in a kitchen etc.)?
  • What is being done to prevent fires (is rubbish being moved regularly so it does not accumulate, are all electrics checked by a competent electrician, is hot work strictly controlled etc.? ).
  • How will the fire be detected (this refers to smoke detectors, heat detectors, break glass units, fire alarms etc.)?
  • How will the building or site be evacuated?
  • Who will oversee the evacuation – main emergency co-ordinator and/or fire wardens?
  • Who has duties in this regard, have they a procedure to follow and have they had training (are fire drills being carried out)?
  • Are all exits checked regularly to ensure that they will open in the event of a fire?
  • Who maintains the smoke detectors and fire alarm systems?
  • Is there emergency lighting and clear evacuation routes with assembly points?
  • Are there enough exits and are they open when the building is occupied?
  • What fire extinguishers, water hoses and/or fire blankets are in place?
  • How often are they checked and serviced?
  • Have employees been trained how to use them?

This is not an exhaustive list of issues to be considered.  To view various resources re the management of fire click here 

Chemicals are used extensively in Irish workplaces and they must be managed to ensure there are no injuries or fires.  Again a risk assessment needs to be carried out to determine:

  • What is in use – create a full list of all chemicals?
  • Who is using them in what areas and under what conditions?
  • How hazardous are these substances (are they flammable, toxic, irritant, cancer causing etc.)
  • Are they being stored, dispensed, used and disposed of safely?
  • Have relevant employees been given information about and training in the safe use of chemicals?
  • Have they been provided with relevant personal protective equipment (e.g. gloves, aprons, goggles, breathing apparatus?)
  • If there is a risk of spillage, are there spill kits available and have employees been trained to deal with dangerous spillages?
  • Do we really need them?
  • Is there a safer, less dangerous substitute available?
  • Determine if you are a supplier of chemicals or a downstream user under REACH
  • Know your Downstream User duties
  • Ensure that all substances are registered under REACH or notified to C&L inventory
  • Check if you are using substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) or substances subject to Authorisation and in Annex XIV of REACH
  • Do you have Material Safety Data Sheets on all chemicals so you know their properties and hazards?
  • Are employees being protected from these substances in terms of restricting access, usage, time exposed etc.?
  • Are there arrangements to deal with accidents and injuries from chemicals – (emergency eye wash stations, showers, trained first aiders who know what to do if someone ingests chemicals?)
  • Do you need to carry out Occupational Hygiene measurements to determine the levels of exposure to vapours, dusts etc.?
  • Is health surveillance being made available?

For more on Chemical Safety click here