How to complain about health and safety standards in your workplace
Workplace safety is governed by the HEALTH AND SAFETY IN EMPLOYMENT ACT 1992. The Act entitles employees to work in a safe environment and requires the employer to provide a safe workplace.
What duties does my landlord owe me under the health and safety laws?
In summary, the HEALTH AND SAFETY IN EMPLOYMENT ACT 1992 requires your employer to:
- generally provide all staff with a safe workplace
- identify and control hazards in the workplace
- train and supervise all staff
- keep staff informed and involve them in health and safety processes
- record all accidents and report all serious injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Service (OSH)
These duties are explained in more detail, from the employer's point of view, in How to ensure that as an employer you comply with workplace health and safety laws.
What should I do if I believe my workplace is unsafe?
If you as an employee are concerned about the safety of your workplace, you should first contact the company's Health and Safety Committee or Health and Safety Officer and let them know your concerns.
You should raise your concerns with your employer as early as possible.
Whom can I complain to about the problem?
If you don't receive a satisfactory response from the company, you can then complain to the Occupational Safety and Health Service (OSH) of the Department of Labour.
The Occupational Safety and Health Service will send an inspector to your workplace to investigate. An OSH inspector has the power to call an immediate halt to work if the conditions in the workplace are a serious danger to employees, by issuing a notice to the employer requiring it to make improvements.
OSH inspectors also have the power to prosecute employers.
When making a complaint to OSH, you can remain anonymous if you wish.
Do I have the right to stop work if the work's unsafe?
Yes, you may refuse to do work if you believe that it's likely to cause you serious harm. But you must attempt to resolve the issue with your employer as soon as practicable.
If the matter isn't resolved, you can continue to refuse to do the work if you believe on reasonable grounds that the work is likely to cause you serious harm.
The law says that one way of satisfying this requirement of "reasonable grounds" (but not the only way) is for your health and safety representative to have told you that the work is likely to cause you serious harm.
You cannot refuse to do work that inherently or usually carries an understood risk of serious harm, unless the risk has significantly increased beyond the understood risk.
What if I'm injured or become ill?
If you receive an injury or a medical condition through your workplace, it's unlikely that you can personally sue the company. A better course of action would be to claim Accident Compensation (see How to claim accident compensation).
You can also take your complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Service. OSH has to the power to prosecute your employer.
What if the company treats me unfairly because I made a complaint?
If you don't remain anonymous when you make your complaint, and you suffer any disadvantages at your workplace because of this, you have the right to bring a personal grievance against your employer (see How to bring a personal grievance).
What if I'm an independent contractor?
If you're an independent contractor you may also be covered under the HEALTH AND SAFETY IN EMPLOYMENT ACT 1992 if before you start work you come to an agreement with the factory or plant owner or operator that you'll be covered. In that case the duties owed to employees under the Act will also apply to you.
- As an employee you also have responsibilities under the Act. If you refuse to follow health and safety measures set down by the employer, the employer is entitled to dismiss you on the grounds that you're a risk to the health and safety of the workplace.