In this blog, I will discuss in some detail the Powers of Health and Safety Authority (HSA) Inspectors as well as some of the Enforcement Actions that inspectors can take.
HSA inspectors are given powers under various pieces of legislation including:
- The Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (Section 64)
- The Chemicals Act 2008 (Section 12)
- The Dangerous substances Act 1972
- The ADR Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road Regulations
What are the main powers of HSA Inspectors?
There are a surprising number of powers given to HAS Inspectors which are described below:
- They can enter any place where the Inspector believes it is a place of work or if it is used for keeping articles or substances.
- On the other hand, an Inspector can’t enter a private dwelling without the consent of the owner or unless it’s under the terms of a warrant issued by the District Court.
- The Inspector can stop a vehicle on the road for inspection but only if accompanied by a member of the Gardai (e.g. ADR Road Transport Inspections).
- Inspectors may carry out inspections and examine any place of work, process or procedure carried out at the workplace.
- They can examine records, articles, and substances that are kept in the workplace
- Inspectors can require that the workplace (or part of it) be left undisturbed until any examination, search, or investigation is completed.
- The Inspector can require records to be produced and require information about these records to be provided.
- They can make copies of records and must be given access to records including those held electronically.
- They can take original records for further investigation, inspection, and enquiry for as long as is reasonably practicable.
- Did you know that a person at work can be summoned at a specified time and place to give information or produce records required by the Inspector?
- Inspectors can require persons at the place of work to provide information relating to an inspection, investigation, inquiry or examination and can require assistance and facilities to enable them to exercise their powers.
- The inspector can also require that any article is operated or set in motion or that any procedure is carried out in their presence.
- An Inspector may question any person and require that person to answer the questions and sign a declaration of the truth of the answers.
- Inspectors can take measurements, photographs, video recordings, or any other recordings.
- They can use monitoring equipment and carry out the atmospheric sampling.
- They can also arrange for any testing, examination or analysis to be carried out at that place of work, or any other place they specify, of any substance or article at the place of work.
- They can also require that any articles or substances or samples of them are supplied without charge.
- Inspectors can require any article or substance at the place of work that they consider to be or have been a risk to safety or health to be dismantled or subjected to any process or test.
- Inspectors can also remove and retain any article or substance required for examination, or to ensure it is not tampered with, or to ensure it is available for use as evidence in any proceedings.
- An inspector can also require any person they consider may have committed an offense to provide their name and address.
- Inspectors can also provide verbal and written advice.
Other Powers under the Chemicals Act
Inspectors have quite strong powers under the Chemicals Act:
- They can inspect any workplace where chemicals might be present or possibly other places where statutory requirements might apply (e.g. an office or database where an inspector can check records on chemicals).
- Inspectors can remove and retain chemicals.
- They can even require the removal of a chemical from the market by the person who places the chemical on the market.
- Inspectors can also require the safe disposal of a chemical that prevents it from being marketed.
Accident and Complaints Investigations
Health and Safety Authority inspectors may call to a workplace to investigate a specific event such as an accident, dangerous occurrence, or a complaint made against an employer.
The aims of an investigation are to determine the underlying cause of an accident or dangerous occurrence and to establish any remedial action that may be necessary.
However, the inspector may also conclude that a complaint is not justified and take no further action on it.
What enforcement Actions can Inspectors take?
HSA Inspectors take actions where statutory contraventions are observed (e.g. where there is a risk of serious personal injury or poor management of dangerous chemicals or poor management of the transport of dangerous goods).
The inspector may take a range of actions including:
Report of Inspection
- Provide a Report of Inspection Letter to the duty-holder or person in charge during an inspection which sets out minor breaches of the relevant laws and areas where improvements can be made.
- The person in charge must countersign this letter, to indicate that they accept the items on the letter will be remedied.
Improvement Directions and Plans
- Inspectors can issue an Improvement Direction where the inspector considers that activities may involve risk to the safety or health of persons.
- An employer is required to respond to the Improvement Direction with an Improvement Plan which the Inspector can approve or require to be amended.
- The inspector can serve an Improvement Notice on a duty-holder stating that in the inspector’s opinion the duty holder has contravened a provision of an Act or Regulation, and requiring that the contravention be addressed within a certain time period of not less than 14 days.
- The Inspector can serve a Prohibition Notice where an inspector is of the opinion that an activity is likely to involve a risk of serious personal injury to any person.
- This is serious as the activity must be stopped until it has been remedied.
- A prohibition notice is used in high-risk situations and must clearly state what activity is being prohibited, and why the activity involves the risk of serious personal injury.
- Inspectors do not generally give specific solutions to the Prohibition Notice but they may discuss possible alternatives.
- The HSA Inspector can issue an Information Notice requiring a person to present to the Authority any information specified by the notice.
- When an inspector observes a breach of the ADR Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road Regulations, they can issue a fine between €100 – €500 for each breach.
- Non-payment of the fine can result in the duty-holder being prosecuted in the District Court.
High Court Order
- The inspector can apply to the High Court to seek an interlocutory Order under Section 71 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to restrict or prohibit work activities at part or all of a workplace.
- Section 19 of the Chemicals Act 2008 has a similar provision with regard to the protection of health and the environment from the adverse effects of chemicals.
Prohibition or Restriction of Movement of Chemicals
- An inspector can prohibit or restrict the movement of chemicals under the Chemicals Act 2008 and any of its relevant chemical statutory provisions (see Section 20 of the Chemicals Act 2008).
- Inspectors must assess the evidence collected in the course of an investigation (for example in the event of a workplace accident) to determine any potential offense (s) and prepare an investigation file.
- The investigating inspector will make a decision on whether to recommend further legal proceedings (prosecution), on the strength of the evidence collected.
- The investigation file is sent to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), who makes a determination based on the file and the evidence and decides if it goes forward at the District Court level (summarily) or in the Circuit Court (on indictment).
- The maximum fine in the District Court is €5,000 per offense and/or up-to 12 months in prison.
- The maximum fine in the Circuit Court for an indictable offense is €3 million and/or 2 years in prison.
Appealing an Improvement Notice, Contravention Notice, Prohibition Notice, or Information Notice
An employer or person has a right to appeal any of the above notices and the appeal process is outline on the Health and Safety Authority website at the following link:
The Appeals Process – Health and Safety Authority (hsa.ie)