A new Government plan to help workers go back to their jobs safely after the Covid-19 lockdown could see business premises shut if employers do not do enough to protect their staff from catching the coronavirus at work.
The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, today Saturday, 9 May 2020 published the National “Return to Work Safely Protocol”.
A statement said the Protocol "clearly and comprehensively" sets out the steps and processes that businesses "must take" to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
The Health and Safety Authority will be the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.
The Minister warned that it will have power.
"Ultimately, if a business doesn’t cooperate and comply with the public health guidelines after being asked to make improvements, the HSA will be able to order them to shut down the workplace.
"However, I am confident that employers want their businesses to remain open and want to do the right things to protect and support their workers. This document provides them with the know-how to ensure that they have a safe working environment for all," she said in a statement.
The following requirements, among others, are included in the Protocol:
- Each workplace will appoint at least one lead worker representative, who will work with the employer to ensure that Covid-19 measures are strictly adhered to in the workplace.
- Before a workplace reopens, there will be COVID-19 induction training for all workers to make sure that they are up to speed on the Public Health Advice and Guidance.
- Employers will issue a pre-return to work form for workers to complete at least 3 days in advance of the return to work.
Employers are also required to update their safety plans before reopening, in consultation with, and with the agreement of, workers.
- The plan should include measures relevant to COVID-19, for example, social distancing, the provision of hand sanitisers, tissues and clinical waste bags, clear procedures around handwashing and respiratory etiquette, and ensuring proper ventilation on site.
- Employers will keep a log of any group work in order to facilitate contact tracing.
- Employers are required to put a response plan in place, outlining details of how they will deal with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace, to include a designated manager in charge.
- If a worker displays any symptoms of the virus during work hours, the designated manager must direct that person to a designated isolation area, along a designated route, all the time maintaining a 2-metre distance, and arrange for that person to remain in isolation before arranging for them to be transported home, or to a medical facility, avoiding public transport.
- The employer must also carry out a full risk assessment of the incident to see what, if any, further action needs to be taken.
- Breaks and rest periods should be organised so as to facilitate social distancing.
- In settings where 2 metre separation is not possible, alternative protective measures such as installation of physical barriers/plastic sneeze guards should be put in place
Minister Humphreys outlined more about the role of the HSA in policing the Protocol.
"The HSA will take a collaborative approach in the first instance as they oversee the implementation of the Protocol. Inspectors will provide advice and support to employers and employees on how they are implementing the COVID-19 measures in the workplace, based on the Return to Work Safely Protocol.
"They will also be able to visit the workplace and advise on any shortcomings through a Report of Inspection, which is left with the employer at the end of the visit and can include timelines and follow-ups needed.
"They also have the power to serve an Improvement Notice, a legal directive from an inspector requiring that certain improvements be carried out in a specified time-frame, or a Prohibition Notice, a legal instruction directing that a specified work activity be stopped," said the Minister.
A statement said the Protocol was developed and agreed in consultation with the members of the Labour Employer Economic Forum, which is the forum for high-level dialogue between government, and union and employer representatives on labour market issues.
Participants in this process included Ibec, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Chambers Ireland and the Construction Industry Federation. It is the result of a collaborative effort, led by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and involving the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the Department of Health and the HSE.
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, said:
"This Protocol is a critical component of the Government’s Roadmap for reopening the economy as we gradually lift the COVID-19 restrictions. It very clearly sets out the steps that businesses and workers should take to ensure that they can return to work safely.
"Collaboration between employers and workers will be central to the success of our return to work. That’s why we have specified in the Protocol that they should have regular engagement about the preventative measures in the workplace.
"The Protocol is mandatory and it applies to all workplaces right across the economy. Obviously, specific sectors may need to introduce additional safeguards, but this document sets the standard set of measures required in every workplace.
"I am aware that many sectors have already developed detailed COVID-19 return-to-work plans that capture most, if not all, of the measures in the Protocol, and would like to acknowledge and thank them for their work.
"Similarly, I would like to acknowledge that many critical and essential businesses have continued to operate during the pandemic with the appropriate safeguards in place.
If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or email@example.com.
Monitoring of the Protocol
A high-level consultative stakeholder forum, under the aegis of Labour Employer Economic Forum, will be established to oversee the implementation of this Protocol in light of evolving public health advice and other factors. The forum will include membership from the various bodies with responsibility for health and safety at work and for public health more generally.
The Labour Employer Economic Forum
The forum was established in 2016 to bring together representatives of employers and trade unions with government ministers to exchange views areas of shared concern affecting the economy, employment and the labour market on a thematic basis, such as competitiveness, sustainable job creation, labour market standards and equality and gender issues in the workplace.
Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) plays a key role in implementing the Government’s policies of stimulating the productive capacity of the economy and creating an environment which supports job creation and maintenance. The Department has lead responsibility for Irish policy on global trade and inward investment and a remit to promote fair competition in the marketplace, protect consumers and safeguard workers.
The Return to Work Safely Protocol is available online at Return to Work Safely Protocol.
Minister @HHumphreysFG published Protocol to help businesses & workers return to work following #COVID19 closures, overseen by @TheHSA.— Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (@EnterInnov) May 9, 2020
This sets out steps & processes that businesses must take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
More: https://t.co/aCzBTRHK12 #COVID19Ireland pic.twitter.com/jlmIqtxSe9