Most meat plant inspections in August unannounced

HSA breaks with earlier practice of prearranging most visits as Covid-19 cases surged

Masked shoppers  in Naas, Co Kildare on Tuesday  as the county emerged from  lockdown. A surge in Covid-19 infections at four meat factories had  contributed to the lockdowns in Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Photograph:  Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Masked shoppers in Naas, Co Kildare on Tuesday as the county emerged from lockdown. A surge in Covid-19 infections at four meat factories had contributed to the lockdowns in Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

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All but one of the coronavirus-related health and safety inspections carried out at meat plants during the month of August were unannounced, breaking with a practice of prearranging most visits.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) said there were 26 meat plant inspections carried out last month, of which 25 were unannounced.

Up to the middle of August, only nine inspections of 39 carried out since lockdown measures started to be eased in May were unannounced.

The increased surveillance of meat plants last month came in response to a surge in Covid-19 infections at four meat factories that contributed to the lockdowns of Kildare, Laois and Offaly.

The trade union movement last month called on the HSA to conduct random and unannounced inspections of all meat processing plants given the resurgence in Covid-19 cases at the plants.

HSA chief executive Sharon McGuinness has said that inspections with known outbreaks were “pre-advised” at short notice to ensure managers were available to facilitate thorough inspections.

The HSA has conducted 64 inspections of meat plants, including processing factories with coronavirus outbreaks, since May, of which 11 were revisits.

The workplace safety watchdog said it has not had to issue enforcement notices beyond a report of inspection as compliance with Covid-19 health and safety regulations was “satisfactory”.

“In relation to meat processing plants, the authority has received a high level of co-operation from management, staff and contractors in plants inspected and has noted an overall responsiveness to guidance and advice issued both on-site and subsequently,” the HSA said.

There have been 4,341 inspections or investigations carried out by the HSA since May when public restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were eased. Some 3,215 of these inspections and investigations related to the Return to Work Safety Protocol guidelines for reopening workplaces during the pandemic.

The authority said that where workplaces were not fully compliant with the protocol, these were given advice and guidance on how to put further measures in place.

“In addition, they would have also been provided with a written report of inspection, setting out the breaches identified and areas were improvement are required,” the HSA said.

“It is an offence for an employer not to comply with a report of inspection.”

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