*The prosecution information concerning 2021 is taken from the HSA’s published Annual Report 2021. The 2022 information is taken from the details in the HSA press releases for 2022, as the Annual Report 2022 is not yet published. All information is for general information and comparative review and should be checked and confirmed by the HSA if being relied upon for any other purpose.
In 2022, there were ten prosecutions taken under the Irish Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) legislation. Nine of these were on indictment in the Circuit Court, while one was taken summarily in the District Court. Eight of these prosecutions related to the death of a worker or member of the public as a result of a work activity. Two prosecutions did not relate to fatal accidents, one relating to workplace violence (Healthcare) and the other involving serious non-fatal injuries.
In 2021, there were 18 prosecutions taken, sixteen on indictment and two summarily. Six of these related to fatal accidents at the workplace, whereas 12 related to non-fatal serious injuries or other breaches. There were two of these related to unsafe working with asbestos materials.
Charges and verdicts
The defendants in all 28 prosecutions in 2021 and 2022 pleaded guilty. No prosecutions were contested.
In 2021 there were 19 charges relating to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (the Act), with 12 of these relating to Section 8 – General Duties of Employer. There were seven charges relating to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations (the Construction Regulations) which included charges on a Client for failure to make appointments of Project Supervisors for the Design Process (PSDP) and the Construction Stage (PSCS). There were four charges relating to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 and 1 relating to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Quarries) Regulations 2008.
In 2022 there were 15 charges pleaded to by defendants, with all bar one relating to breaches of the Act 11 of these related to Section 8 – General Duties of Employer. The exception to this was a charge taken under Regulation 52 of Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 – Examination and testing of lifting equipment.
It is worth noting that the charges reviewed/available were those where guilty pleas were entered and accepted. Other charges, including other technical charges under specific Statutory Instruments, may have been originally proffered but withdrawn when defendants offered pleas to core charges.
Investigation/time to trial
The details from the HSA highlight the time the investigation and prosecution process takes from the accident to the eventual trial and verdict. While the investigation time can be lengthy and will vary depending on several factors, e.g. complexity, availability of witnesses and experts etc., it is generally the process of legal review and progression through the court system that requires the most time.
For the prosecution in 2021, the average time from the accident/incident date to the final trial date was circa. 47 months. This was slightly higher in 2022, with the average time being circa 48.5 months. It should be noted that this includes the summary trials which would have shorter times to trial (due to statutes of limitations being in place).
Also, it is worth noting that the courts are still clearing backlogs of cases built up over the COVID-19 lockdown periods.
*The HSA information doesn’t provide exact NACE code designation for the prosecutions, so the information below is based on the activity description in the HSA reports and should give a good indication of the state in different sectors.
The sector which features most in prosecutions under OSH legislation is the Construction sector (64%).
In 2022 5/10 prosecutions taken were in the construction sector (or on organisations carrying out construction activities as defined). Two prosecutions were taken in the manufacturing sector also, with the others in Healthcare, Waste and Food sectors.
In 2021 13/18 prosecutions taken were in the construction sector. Two others were in the Public Admin/local authorities sector, with others in the Chemicals, Warehousing and Quarrying sectors.
Penalties and fines
While four individuals were personally prosecuted under the OSH legislation in 2021 and 2022, no custodial sentences were given. Penalties ranging from the Probation Act to fines of €440,000 were given out over the two years. In 2021 total fines of €692,750 were handed out. This amounted to an average fine of €38,486. Despite eight fewer prosecutions in 2022, the total fines handed out by the Courts increased to €1,240,000. This amounted to an average fine of €124,000.