Health & Safety Myths

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The Myth:

HSA Inspectors are just looking to catch people out and issue fines.

The Reality:

In 2014 less than 10% of inspections by the Health and Safety Authority resulted in formal enforcement action. Although The Authority has a duty to enforce workplace health and safety law, the primary focus of a Health and Safety Authority inspector is to promote and encourage safer workplaces by providing help and guidance.

The vast majority of inspections conclude with either verbal or written advice being given. The aim is not to catch out employers, but to improve awareness and reduce the number of fatalities, accidents and personal injuries in Irish workplaces.

You can find a detailed breakdown of the Health and Safety Authorities inspection and enforcement figures in our Annual Reports. The 2014 Annual Report can be found here.


The Myth:

Health and safety will cost me and my business money.

The Reality:

For most small and medium-sized enterprises, managing health and safety does not need to be expensive. Employers have a legal duty to control hazards in the workplace, but for many sectors (retail, office, service, commercial) the hazards are few and simple. In most cases managing workplace health and safety is straightforward and based on common sense.

There is no legal requirement to pay for an external consultant to manage health and safety. Employers in smaller firms often understand their workplace better than anyone – they are in the best position to identify workplace hazards, assess risks and produce their own safety statement. The HSA has produced a range of sector-specific guidance to help businesses do this, as well as – a free online risk assessment tool which allows employers to develop a comprehensive safety statement for their business.


The Myth:

Health & safety is just more red tape hindering business!

The Reality:

Keeping workers safe and healthy is not needless bureaucracy.  Red tape is usually described as tasks imposed on businesses that are costly, overly complicated and unnecessary. A sensible, common sense approach to managing workplace safety is none of these things.

For the vast majority of employers, ensuring a safe place of work does not need to be expensive – in fact evidence shows that it is good for business and will save you money. Research carried out for The Health and Safety Authority confirmed that occupational injuries and illness can cause significant financial losses for employers, including:

  • salary costs for replacement staff or overtime payments,
  • lost productivity,
  • compensation costs,
  • retraining costs, and
  • increased insurance payments.

Recent figures revealed an average cost per workplace accident of €9,000, while the average employer’s liability payout is over €32,000.

But while the business case for having a safe workplace is clear to see, we should also never forget the human cost of workplace accidents. Last year 56 people were killed in Irish workplaces and many others suffered serious injury. The devastating effects of these incidents should remind us all of the need to keep workers safe. Maintaining a safe and healthy workplace is not an unnecessary burden – it makes financial sense and is the right thing to do.


The Myth:

Manual Handling? You mean spending a day being told how to lift up a box? What a waste of time.

The Reality:

Manual handling training is not mandatory for all staff. Manual Handling Regulations only apply to a work activity that ‘by reason of its characteristics or of unfavourable ergonomic conditions, involves risk, particularly of back injury, to employees.’ A worker who only lifts light loads at waste height, for example, would not be at risk – and sending this worker on a manual handling training course would indeed be a waste of time.

However, where manual handling does involve a risk of injury the employer needs to act. A third of all workplace injuries reported to the HSA are caused by manual handling activities, and those injuries are a leading cause of work disability.

The first option should be to remove or reduce the need for manual handling. Here’s some guidance explaining how that can be done. Just providing training will not reduce injury rates and will not protect anyone. Manual handling training needs to be specific and relevant to the tasks involved. So, if your job involves moving heavy barrels around a warehouse, the training should reflect this. In other words, you don’t need to be told how to lift up a box.


The Myth:

“So many things get banned because of health and safety. It’s the nanny state gone mad!”

The Reality:

We’ve all seen the signs, we’ve all read the stories – everyday activities suddenly prohibited ‘for health and safety reasons’. It sometimes seems as though ‘health and safety’ is about preventing anyone being exposed to any kind of risk, and it’s no wonder people often think it’s all gone too far.

In truth, health and safety law has nothing to do with trying to remove every single possible risk from people’s lives. It was introduced in this country to help address the high number of accidents in the workplace which over the years have resulted in hundreds of deaths and many thousands of very serious injuries.  It has absolutely nothing to do with wrapping everyone in cotton wool.

Unfortunately, health and safety is often used an excuse for all sorts of unpopular decisions.  It can be very convenient to put a difficult decision down to some vague “health and safety” issue rather than outline the real motivation – for example commercial pressures or fear of legal action.

The position of the Health and Safety Authority is clear – health and safety is not a reason to not do something.  If there are valid risks associated with a workplace activity these risks should be assessed and managed so that the activity can be carried out in a safe way.  Very rarely is the solution to simply not do it.

Courtesy Of The Health & Safety Authority.

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