Serious Incidents – legal proceedings

First and most important, incident and accident prevention is always the best policy and adherence to good Health & Safety practice greatly reduces the risk. Unfortunately, despite best efforts these incidents still occur (43 workplace fatalities in 2023) and preparation is important. We have taken these key points from an excellent article in the June issue of the Health & Safety Review, which reported on a conference given by Arthur Cox Solicitors.

In the case of an incident, attending to the injured party is obviously the number one consideration, but then the following should be adhered to:

  • Make the area of the incident safe e.g., preserve the scene for further investigation.
  • Appoint a designated person, who is senior and has authority to manage interactions with authorities during an investigation. This is not necessarily the health and safety officer.
  • Ensure notifications are made to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) within the required timeframes on their online reporting system e.g., within five days for a workplace death, ten days for a non-fatal incident, dangerous occurrences within 10 working days.
  • Carefully manage all documentation transfers during the investigation process, record what is given and to whom.
  • Handle any privileged documentation carefully (privilege provides special protection that exempts certain documents and other communication from having to be disclosed in legal proceedings), as it can easily be lost if the information is handled incorrectly.
  • Ensure your insurance provider is notified of the incident.
  • Engage with the HSA throughout the process. If enforcement notices are to be issued, the terms should be as precise as possible, so it is clear what has to be done to comply.
  • Interviews under caution mean that the inspector has formed an opinion that a breach of legislation has occurred. Provide support to any employees who are to be interviewed, including legal advice on how to respond to questions.
  • Prosecutions can be taken in the District Court as a summary case, or on indictment in the Circuit Criminal Court, which is more serious and has a judge and jury present.
  • Penalties range from €3,000 to 12 months’ imprisonment in the District Court, and up to €3 million and two years in prison on indictment.
  • Liability of directors under Section 80 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, and section 14 extends beyond just directors, it includes managers and any person who is in functional control of an area.

These just barely summarise the main points. We can provide training in this area with experienced and qualified tutors if required, legal advice tends to be very expensive so this option should be considered even with small numbers. Contact us if interested.

This post from the HSA on reporting on accidents and dangerous occurrences outlines the requirements and is well worth reading.

Please adhere to best practice, ensure all your staff are adequately trained and implement what is learned to reduce the risk of such occurrences.

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