There are two key aspects of a safe and legal workplace:
1. Health and safety
2. Employment law
It’s important that you comply with both.
The law places the responsibility for health and safety in the workplace squarely on the employer’s shoulders. All businesses are required to provide a ‘safe place of work’, by identifying and then eliminating (in so far as is reasonably practicable) risks and by putting in place safe work practices. Employees must adhere to these safe work practices and be aware of their own and other employees’ safety at work – in particular, they should report damaged or dangerous machinery or equipment to management. All accidents where a person is injured at work and unable to work for three or more days must be reported to the Health and Safety Authority.
Employees are protected by over 30 separate pieces of legislation.
However, the key aspects relate to:
- Contracts of employment – an employee is entitled to a written contract of employment within two months of starting
- Non-discrimination – you must not discriminate between employees or candidates for employment on the grounds of gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, religion or membership of the Traveller community
- Leave – maternity, parental / force majeure, adoptive, carer’s and annual leave have different qualifying periods and rules
- Working time – to ensure employees receive sufficient rest time and holidays
- Termination, redundancy and notice periods – when the time comes to let someone go
The National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) provides information to employers and employees on the rights and responsibilities under the law.
Note that an employee works under a ‘contract of service’, as opposed to a freelancer or contractor who works under a ‘contract for service’ – this is an important distinction that also has tax implications.
The next step is to carry out a quick risk assessment online with the Health & Safety Authority’s tool, BeSmart, and easily prepare a Safety Statement, which you can update as your business grows.
The three basic steps in risk assessment are:
- Identify the hazards
- Identify the level of risk for each hazard
- Identify the controls or improvements that need to be put in place to avoid or reduce the risk
- From your risk assessment, develop a Safety Statement (a legal requirement for all workplaces). It should relate to your business’ work activities – not just be a generic statement copied from somewhere else – and be based on your risk assessment of the hazards that may affect your employees or visitors. Review your Safety Statement at least annually – or if your business changes – and amend it as necessary to reflect the updated situation.
If you use chemicals in your business, read and follow the advice in Your Steps to Chemical Safety: A Guide for Small Business.
When you start recruiting – talk to your solicitor. Make sure that your recruitment process is fair – no discrimination – and that you have an up-to-date (and fair) contract of employment. Put in place grievance and disciplinary procedures – hopefully they’ll never be used, but better safe than sorry!
For more information and links see the Next Steps section below.