Before Question Time I was explaining why the authority was necessary and why it should be separate from the Department of Labour. There is no need to go further into that point but it is a fundamental part of the legislation and a requirement which Mr. Justice Barrington's Commission was anxious to have.
The authority will have to clear their policy proposals with the Minister each year which will ensure that the overall policy control remains in his hands. Various agencies like local authorities will only be used where the authority give them a function or role to do something when they are called out to a premises anyway — it would not be an additional job. It would arise where a local authority inspector or agent would be called out anyway, but normally it would be the staff and inspectorate of the Authority.
Deputy Mitchell asked about the repeal of existing legislation. The formula in the Bill for repeal by order of existing legislation is qualified by a requirement to make copies of the regulations to be laid before the House. The authority will have the task of identifying the risks that need to be tackled in the various sectors and of making proposals to the Minister for the making of regulations. Deputy Mitchell asked under which Part of the Bill are the regulations dealt with. They are dealt with in the Fourth Schedule. Under this Bill, a tripartite safety and health authority will be established. In limited circumstances the authority seek orders in the High Court for enforcement of the safety and health law. In our view there is a case for a separate safety tribunal which would result in a duplication of the number of bodies in this area. Only very important cases would be referred to the High Court.
Various queries were raised as to whether this Bill would impose any duties on employees. I pointed out in my opening remarks this morning that section 9 would impose general duties on workers and these are laid down in detail in that section. In particular employees would be required to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and prosecutions may be brought against them if they fail to do so. These duties will be fleshed out in greater detail in the regulations and codes of practice. Section 9 requires an employee to take reasonable care of his own safety and health and that of others who may be affected by his acts or omissions while at work; to co-operate with his employer and others, such as a subcontractor on site, would ensure compliance with the relevant statutory provisions.
Deputy Mitchell asked if there was any obligation on an employee to wear protective clothing. Under section 9 an employee would be obliged to wear protective clothing and to report to his employer or his immediate supervisor any defects in plant, equipment, place of work or system of work which might endanger safety, health or welfare of which he becomes aware. It should be pointed out that this section does not place the responsibility on the employee to check equipment, but it clearly places a responsibility on employees to take reasonable care for their own safety and health and to wear protective clothing.
As Deputy Mitchell is aware, it is not usual in legislation to earmark funding for authorities such as this. As I said this morning, it would be the responsibility of the Government to provide funding for the authority as it will not generate its own funds. It will be funded by the Exchequer in the normal way.
As I mentioned previously, each year my Department take a number of prosecutions under safety laws and the authority will continue this practice. Last year, based on road checks, the inspectors brought a number of prosecutions before the courts. Normally, the inspectors try to convince employers to do the right thing. Yesterday Deputy Wyse and I had a good discussion on a question he had tabled to me at Question Time. The function of the inspector is to find out what is wrong and how it may be corrected. If the safety inspectors were to become like traffic wardens — the only time they say hello is when they stick a ticket on the window — there would be no co-operation and people would not give the necessary information to them.
My Department operate on the basis of good will and confidentiality with the result that companies report accidents which then can be investigated and the wrongs put right. If the Department of labour or the authority think only in terms of enforcement, there will be a lot less co-operation from employers. They will not report accidents. We discussed a good example of this yesterday — a major fault is being properly handled, and major changes are being made in the plant to protect the people living in that area. Normally, if an employer ignores regulations or orders we will bring him to court. I would not like this authority, which needs the co-operation of both workers and management, to adopt hardline attitudes.
It was correct to say that workers have not been prosecuted in the past. Section 9 prosecutions can be taken by the authority against workers. The possibility of imprisonment would only arise in extreme cases, such as where there has been disregard of a prohibition notice which resulted in serious or fatal injuries.
Deputy Mitchell asked if this legislation would apply to State bodies. It will apply to the public sector. He asked who would go to prison if my Department were prosecuted. In that event the person with responsibility for the Department, the Minister for Labour, would be brought to the court or if a prosecution were brought against the Houses of the Oireachtas, it would be the Ceann Comhairle who would be brought before the court. There is no passing the buck. The person in control would have to bear responsibilities and would be summoned to appear before the court. This is the only way to ensure that the legislation will be implemented effectively.
Deputy Mitchell also asked what would happen if a worker disregards safety regulations and causes an accident, and he also asked for a breakdown of the accident figures. No breakdown of the number of accidents caused by the lack of safety equipment and those caused by workers disregarding safety regulations is available. However, it is accepted that most accidents are caused by human error, and this is borne out by the fact that most accidents are caused as a result of a fall, slip, hand tools and material falling.
The part of the Bill dealing with the general duties on employers to prevent ill health could be used to tackle the question of smoking. It would be very difficult to decide how best to tackle this issue but, as I said yesterday and I repeat now, this would be easier to implement in legislation enacted by the Minister for Health. Implementing no-smoking areas and banning smoking in certain parts of offices and plants is not easy. Most people have experience of the difficulties arising from that. It is not so difficult to ban it in hospitals and certain plants or workplaces, and there is a major extension of these areas in the legislation proposed by the Minister for Health. In regard to general duties of employers to prevent ill health it could be taken up under codes of practice in this legislation.
Regarding the application to transport work, the place of work has been defined in the Bill to ensure the provision will apply to all work activities of any description. Vehicles is one of the examples given in the definition. While the new Authority will have no direct control of road traffic legislation in general, they will have the power to keep under review provisions such as the Road Traffic Acts in so far as they relate to people engaged in work and to make recommendations for change where desired to the appropriate Minister. Wherever people are engaged in work in any form this legislation has a dominant role. It applies to transport. It does not have to be a person in a set place.
The question of mobility is covered in the Bill. On the environment, the term "non-employee" as used in the Bill is intended to include, for example, persons who are on the premises for the purpose of collecting or delivering goods for another company, employees of an outside contractor carrying out repairs, maintenance and contract cleaning and the general public, whether on the premises conducting business or residents in the vicinity of the premises.
The Barrington commission recommended that the new system would have regard to the safety and health also of non-employees and the public in general wherever this is a significant consideration. The commission recommended that where inside or in the immediate surroundings of a workplace danger arises to the safety or health of non-employees from work activities, the employer or the self-employed person should be required to take suitable measures to prevent such danger. For practical reasons the provisions of this section of the Bill have not been limited to persons in the immediate surroundings of the workplace. First, to attempt to define adequately the immediate surroundings would be extremely difficult. Secondly, any definition would of necessity have to be somewhat arbitrary and, while it might be appropriate in the case of a physical hazard such as destructibility of the premises, it could be totally inadequate in a case of chemical hazard such as hazardous fumes being given off which could be lethal a considerable distance from the premises. Therefore, administration, application and enforcement of this section will have to be considered carefully by the Authority and in this regard they will have to liaise with other bodies such as the Department of the Environment which Deputy Mitchell mentioned and the agencies charged with responsibility for matters such as general pollution control. The provisions of this section are not intended to cover matters which are already clearly the responsibility of other Government Departments or institutions. While the regulations that are there are remaining on in law side by side with the new regulations of the safety, health and welfare legislation, where there are duplications the idea is not to continue them.
I dealt at some length with the need for the Authority. The setting up of the Authority is the key to getting employers and workers to co-operate and work together on safety and health. The Minister will retain the overall policy control and make the final decision and will make the regulations on the recommendations of the Authority. The Barrington commission were strong in their recommendation of a tripartite Authority. I hope I have convinced Deputy Wyse that it is not a white elephant or quango. This Authority are essential to the operation of this legislation and to the co-operation of the social partners.