The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) recently published its ‘Programme of Work’
for 2024. The programme is a roadmap for how the HSA intends to achieve its “vision of healthy, safe and productive lives and enterprises”. One sector high on the HSA’s list for implementing positive change in 2024 is chemical production and storage. Stakeholders in this sector will be subject to targeted inspection campaigns. The HSA has also identified a growing trend of UK suppliers diverging from EU requirements when supplying chemicals to Member States. We highlight some of the key issues the HSA will be looking out for.
The HSA intends to carry out 10,000 proactive inspections of high risk workplaces in 2024. It will carry out a further 620 inspections targeting high risk chemical activities. The inspections will focus on areas with a greater potential for exposure to chemicals including chemicals processing, transportation, manufacture and use in the workplace. The inspections will pay particular attention to issues including:
- Indoor air quality
- Exposure to biological agents
- Exposure to chemical agents such as carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances
- Hazardous medicinal products and potent compounds
- Manual handling and people handling activities
- Load security, loading/unloading, storage racking, industrial trucks and lifting equipment
- Lone working
- Accident and dangerous occurrence reporting
- Inspection of safety reports for COMAH sites
Stakeholders should review their policies and processes for these issues and ensure they are implementing the necessary measures to ensure compliance with their health and safety obligations.
The HSA has identified the appointment of safety representatives by employers as being of “strategic importance” in ensuring the safety, health and welfare of workers. When carrying out inspections and engaging with stakeholders, the HSA will promote the role of safety representatives to ensure that employers and employees understand the value of the role.
Under section 25 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, employees may appoint one of their colleagues to be their ‘safety representative’. The purpose of the safety representative is to represent employees in consultation with their employer on matters related to safety, health and welfare in the workplace.
Safety representatives have the statutory right to perform certain activities subject to limitations. These activities include, amongst others:
- Inspecting the workplace
- Investigating accidents and dangerous occurrences
- Investigating complaints regarding health and safety
- Accompanying inspectors during inspections
- Attending employee interviews conducted as part of an investigation
- Making oral and written submissions to inspectors on matters relating to health and safety
Employers and safety representatives are required to work together to carry out internal inspections and take action to address any health and safety issues that are identified.
It is a role of the HSA to regulate and promote the safe manufacture, use, placing on the market, trade, supply, storage, and transport of chemicals. It also acts as a surveillance authority for relevant single European market legislation. Surveillance of the Irish chemicals market will be a priority for the HSA in 2024 for several reasons.
The EU intends to further amend the REACH Regulation and introduce a new Regulation to provide for more efficient assessment of chemical substances. These proposed legislative changes are expected to fundamentally change the way chemicals are regulated in the EU. The HSA hopes to have significant input to influence the drafting of these amendments.
It is reported by the HSA that there is recent evidence of growing divergence from EU requirements by UK suppliers of chemicals to Member States. To address this, the HSA intends to increase its chemicals and market surveillance, with particular focus on imports from the UK, to ensure the aims of the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability are achieved. The HSA will monitor products placed on the Irish market to ensure they are compliant with chemicals and industrial products legislation.
To reduce the risk of imported chemicals being non-compliant with EU requirements, importers should carry out their own due diligence to ensure that chemicals they are importing are compliant.
Where the COMAH Regulations apply to an operator’s facility, there is an increased duty on the operator to ensure the safety, health and welfare of its employees and of the environment. Article 7 of the COMAH Regulations requires every operator to “prevent major accidents occurring and to limit the consequences of any such major accidents for human health and the environment”.
Under the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended), the development, expansion, or increased intensity of use of COMAH sites can require the carrying out of environmental assessments and other matters before planning permission can be granted for such activities on site. As part of the planning process, the COMAH Regulations provide for an integrated approach to planning decisions concerning these establishments. In particular, the HSA can provide technical advice to planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála during the decision making process.
The HSA has recently experienced an increased demand for COMAH related land use planning advice. It is believed this increased demand is in response to economic pressures and climate change factors which have created the need for economic operators in certain sectors to increase the level of chemicals and other dangerous substances they handle or store on site.
To address this growing trend, the HSA will carry out inspections of chemical production and storage sites to ensure compliance with health and safety and chemicals legislation, while also supporting activity in this sector by collaborating with planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála.
For more information, please contact a member of our Planning & Environment team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.
 Health and Safety Authority, ‘Programme of Work 2024’, HSA, The Metropolitan Building, James Joyce Street, Dublin, available at: https://www.hsa.ie/eng/publications_and_forms/publications/corporate/hsa_programme_of_work_2024.pdf
 SI 209/2015 - Chemicals Act (Control of Major Accident Hazards involving Dangerous Substances) Regulations 2015
 Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 as amended by Commission Regulation (EU) 2022/477