Last year the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) reported that 47 people died in Ireland as a result of workplace accidents; 21 of these fatal accidents were in the agricultural industry. These figures do not take into account the tens of thousands of people who are non-fatally injured in workplaces each year.
Employers have a legal obligation to their employees and it is also in the employers’ financial interest to protect their employees as it is estimated that employers lose approximately €100million each year due to sickness and non-statutory leave.
There are a number of provisions in place to protect employees; there is a common law provision which is dealt with by case law. In addition the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 sets out a number of statutory duties. The Act requires that premises, equipment, systems of work and articles for use at work (including tools and chemicals) are all safe and without risk to the health of those using them. Under the Act all employers are obliged to prepare a written safety statement for their workplace, which is basically an action programme setting out how health and safety is managed.
The duty and standard of care at common law is that an employer should act ‘reasonably and prudently’. The standard of care under the legislation is much higher and an employer is expected to act as reasonably practicable as possible and do everything that they reasonably can to prevent an accident.
The courts have developed a number of duties over the years, which are clearly outlined in the legislation.
Employers have a duty to:
- Provide a safe place of work
- Provide competent co-workers so that employees are not at risk
- Provide a safe system of work which is planned and organised
- Maintain the procedures which are in place.
- Provide instructions, training, equipment and support to employees
Reported cases have also laid down some general guidelines such as:
- The employer is not obliged to warn the employee of obvious risks
- The employer cannot foresee every risk that may possibly occur.
- An employer may be negligent by omission if he has forgotten to do something which a reasonable person would have done in the circumstances.
An employer is required by law to take reasonable care for employees’ safety; however, the employer’s duty is not an unlimited one. The law does not require an employer to ensure, in all circumstances, the safety of employees, rather s/he will have discharged his duty of care if s/he does what is reasonable and practicable in the circumstances. Even where a certain precaution is obvious, in the interest of an employee’s safety, there may be countervailing factors which would justify the employer not taking that precaution. It is also not enough for an employee to simply suggest his employer was negligent, s/he must actually prove s/he was negligent in order to receive compensation.
There are two main elements to proving negligence:
- That the act complained off was reasonably foreseeable; and
- That reasonable care was not taken to prevent the accident.
Victims, their families and those involved in one way or another typically look for someone to be accountable when a workplace accident occurs, but assigning responsibility is not always easy. Where an employee has an accident in the workplace, it does not automatically follow that the employer is liable for the injury suffered. Safety in the workplace is not the sole responsibility of the employer. When an accident occurs it can be through negligence on the part of the employer, or on the part of the employee, or both may have contributed. Freak accidents can also occur where a set of circumstances collide which were unforeseeable; often described as ‘acts of god’.
Time Limit for Bringing a Claim
Under the Statute of Limitations a person who has suffered a workplace injury has two years to bring a claim for compensation.