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HSA inspectors will have legal powers to implement return-to-work protocol
O'Connell St, D1-based newspaper-seller Francis Mumbley wearing a face mask Pic: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

11 May 2020 / COVID-19 Print

HSA inspectors will have legal powers to implement return-to-work protocol

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) will have oversight and enforcement authority over return-to-work protocols announced by the Government at the weekend.

The protocol, announced on Saturday by business minister Heather Humphreys, sets out the steps and processes that businesses must take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

HSA 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 an inspection report, which can include timelines and the follow-ups needed.

Prohibition notice

Inspectors also have the power to serve an Improvement Notice, which is a legal directive from an inspector requiring that certain improvements be carried out in a specified time frame; or a Prohibition Notice, which is a legal instruction directing that a specified work activity be stopped.

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.

The protocol is a ‘living document’, the department said, and will change over time, in compliance with the latest public-health advice. 

Those consulted for the document included IBEC, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Chambers Ireland, and the Construction Industry Federation, led by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and involving the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the Department of Health, and the HSE.

Component

Minister Heather Humphreys said: “This protocol is a critical component of the Government’s roadmap for reopening the economy as we gradually lift the COVID-19 restrictions.

“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.”

She added that many sectors had already developed detailed COVID-19 return-to-work plans that captured most, if not all, of the measures in the protocol, and thanked them for their work. 

Safeguards

The minister acknowledged that many critical and essential businesses continued to operate during the pandemic with the appropriate safeguards in place.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Requirements

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 three days in advance of their 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 hand-washing 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 working hours, the designated manager must direct that person to a designated isolation area, along a designated route, all the time maintaining a two-metre distance, and arrange for that person to remain in isolation before organising transport to their 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, and
  • In settings where two metres of separation are not possible, alternative protective measures, such as installation of physical barriers/plastic sneeze-guards should be put in place.

The protocol is available online at Return to Work Safely Protocol.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland