The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, today Saturday, 9 May 2020 published the National “Return to Work Safely Protocol”. 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 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.
The HSA will be the lead agency in terms of overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.
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.”
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 COVID19 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 concluded:
“The HSA will take a collaborative approach the first instance as they oversee 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.
“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.”
The Protocol is a living document and will change over time, in compliance with the latest public health advice.