The High Court has provided guidance on the meaning of “place of work” under health and safety legislation. 

In this case, Kerry County Council sought to prevent the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) from carrying out an investigation into a road accident.  The single-vehicle accident occurred on Saturday evening, 29 September 2012, when a driver collided with an unfinished traffic island.  The island was being constructed by Kerry County Council as part of traffic calming road works which began in August 2012, and were due to last 20 weeks. 

The HSA asserted its jurisdiction to investigate accidents occurring at a “place of work”.   However, Kerry County Council argued that the road works had ceased on the Friday evening preceding the accident when employees left the site and the road was re-opened to traffic. Kerry County Council thus maintained that the site of the accident was not a “place of work” when the accident occurred on the evening of Saturday, 29 September 2012.   

The High Court distinguished previous cases concerning Cork and Donegal County Councils respectively, where the HSA was found to have no investigative role. In those cases, road surfacing works had been completely demobilised at the relevant point in time.

By contrast, the Court decided in this case that the works in question were incomplete. They had merely been suspended temporarily, and were due to resume the following Monday after the weekend break. The Court noted that it may have reached a different conclusion if the works had been suspended for a period of weeks or months during which the road returned to its normal status.