The Health and Safety in Employment (HSE) Act 1992 is a law designed to prevent people at work from being harmed. It applies to everyone in almost all places of work; inside, outside, public or private even underwater or underground. Employees, employers, contractors, owners of building or plant and visitors to workplaces all have responsibilities and obligations under the HSE Act.
The law applies to you no matter if you are a permanent, temporary, casual, full-time, or part-time employee, or even if you are just receiving on the job training or gaining work experience. It also applies to you regardless of the amount of experience or responsibility you have – the HSE Act applies to you as an apprentice or a new employee, as well as to a senior executive.
The HSE Act puts the responsibility first and foremost on employers to take all practicable steps to identify and manage workplace hazards. However, as an employee or trainee in a workplace you also have responsibilities towards promoting a safe and healthy working environment.
Under the HSE Act, your employer must take “all practicable steps” to:
Your employer has to identify all the hazards in your place of work – these are things which might cause injury or harm your health. You should be told about all the hazards you might be exposed to at work, or hazards that you might create while at work.
Once hazards have been identified, your employer has to take steps to make sure that a hazard is eliminated (for example, replacing a fraying electrical cord or fixing a broken ladder). If it can’t be eliminated then it needs to be isolated (for example, putting noisy machinery in a separate room or putting warning signs up to stop people walking on a slippery floor). Finally, if the hazard can’t be eliminated or isolated, then it needs to be minimised (for example, wearing earmuffs to minimise the risk of damaging your hearing).
The law also says your employer has a duty to provide training so you can do your job safely.
This means your employer must:
You have the right to refuse to do work if you believe (on reasonable grounds) that it is likely to cause you serious harm. You need to try and resolve the situation as soon as possible, but if it isn’t resolved then you can continue to refuse to do the work. You can also refuse to do the work if a health and safety representative in your workplace advises you that it is likely to cause you serious harm.
However, if your job has an inherent or commonly understood risk of serious harm (such as a firefighter) then you can’t refuse to work, unless another factor is present that increases the risk (for example, the presence of flammable liquid in the burning building).
If it's necessary for your health to be monitored at work, your employer should seek your informed consent before any monitoring begins. You should be given the results of any monitoring of you or your place of work. This information should be given in a way which does not reveal your health status to any of your colleagues.
A health and safety inspector from the Department of Labour may not look at your health records without your permission. However, a departmental medical practitioner from the Department may see your records.
Case study 1
Roger's task ( for 6 hours per day) was to coat chicken portions with spices. He smoked and had a history of asthma. When working in the dust cloud that was created during the coating process, his asthma was exacerbated. He was showing systems of 'bakers lung' and had weeping eyes (a kind of conjunctivitis). He had rotten teeth which his dentist couldn't explain but which were likely caused by inhaling flour mix dust. This sticks to the teeth, with an enzyme decay occurring (it is common in bakers and pastry workers).
Asked why he didn't wear a mask Roger said: 'They haven't given me one, I didn't think there was any danger. Besides it wouldn't look cool, especially when my workstation can be seen from the public counter'.
Case study 2
Jack had just completed one year at university and landed a holiday job at a paper packaging factory. The wages weren't that great, but by working double shifts, i.e. 16 hours a day, he figured he would save enough money to get him through his second year at university. Unfortunately after only four weeks on the job, as he neared the end of his shift, a machine he was operating malfunctioned, and as he tried to free the packing trapped in the machine, his arm was crushed. He was lucky his arm wasn't amputated. As it was, he spent the next three months in bed with his arm in traction.
You are expected to take all practicable steps to ensure that you are not harmed at work, and also to ensure that you anyone else is not harmed by your actions, or your failure to take action.
This means that if safety equipment is provided for your job it must be used. If you are using tools, appliances or machinery then you need to make sure that you are using them safely and that people around you aren’t harmed by these items. You must not misuse or damage equipment, for example deliberately damaging fire-fighting equipment, or removing guards from the dangerous parts of machinery without good reason.
In serious cases you, as an employee, can even be prosecuted under the HSE Act if you have done things such as disobeying clear instructions, acting recklessly, skylarking, or deliberately ignoring obvious hazards. An injury or illness doesn’t even need to have occurred for a person to be prosecuted – only that your action or inaction would have been likely to have caused harm to someone.
See also: Obligations
You also have an obligation not to do work which is unsafe. If you become aware of an unsafe work practice or situation, you should make it safe if you can. If you can’t, then you need to inform your supervisor or manager. If the work is genuinely too unsafe to do, then you have the right to refuse to do it – see the section under your rights.
Employers are required to record and evaluate all accidents or harm, including 'near misses' where injury or harm could have occurred. To help employers meet this requirement, then as an employee you need to report all occurrences of harm or near miss incidents to your immediate supervisor or manager. You also need to tell them if you notice any early symptoms of illness or disease.
Case study 3
At an electronics factory where electronic components were being assembled the young people had some fun with each other by squirting a small bottles of water at each other (the water was used to clean the sponges that they wiped their soldering irons on). One young person picked up the wrong bottle and squirted the contents into the face of another young person. Instead of water it contained isopropyl alcohol which caused severe eye problems.
Case study 4
A worker on a large construction site, John had two years experience and a fairly 'macho attitude' when it came to working at heights. It had became a matter of pride for him to ignore an elevated cat walk and walk across to the elevated place of work along a narrow steel beam without any restraint or fall arrest device. His supervisor was aware of the action. One day a health and safety inspector saw John make his entry. John was convicted for failing to ensure his own safety and his employer was also convicted for failing to ensure employee safety.
Case study 5
Paul had been working at the local grocery shop after school for six months. It was a big store with 30 full and part-time staff. One week his friend Steve sprained his ankle when he fell off an unstable ladder while stacking shelves. Steve was angry because he had been complaining about the ladder to his boss for several weeks. Steve had to have two weeks off work on ACC until his ankle was better. The owner asked Paul to stack the shelves while Steve was away. Paul told her the ladder needed fixing and he didn't want to because he could get injured. He was told to 'just do it'. At this point Paul contacted the Department of Labour.
If you are injured at work or you think your work is affecting your health:
It is very important that you tell your employer about any injury or illness as soon as possible after it happens. This is to ensure your injury or illness is treated as soon as possible and to make sure that the hazard which hurt you can be fixed so it doesn't hurt anyone else.
If you are unable to work because of a serious work injury, you may need some time off work. You may also be entitled to be paid accident compensation while you are away from work. Ask your doctor if you need to fill out an ACC form (remember what might seem a minor injury now may have long term implications for your future health and career). If your claim is accepted, you will be paid 80% of your earnings until you are able to return. Your employer will pay the first week and ACC will pay the weeks that follow. You may also be entitled to a partial refund on doctor’s visits and any physiotherapy you have.
If you are younger than 15:
If you are younger than 16, you can’t work at night (10pm-6am), except in special cases.
See also: Restrictions