The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) will be able to shut down workplaces which do not comply with new safety protocols aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19, the Minister for Business Heather Humphreys has warned.
Ms Humphreys also said if workers are concerned about practices in their workplace they should report them to the HSA.
Ms Humphreys launched the ‘Return to Work Safety Protocol’ at Government Buildings on Saturday. It sets out a range of measures employers and their employees will have to undertake in order to re-open over the coming weeks.
“Where needed, HSA inspectors will be able to take appropriate enforcement action under the Health Safety and Welfare at Work Act 2005,” Ms Humphreys said.
“This means 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.”
Employers will have to ensure their employees answer a survey before they return to work, and confirm whether or not they have Covid-19 symptoms or if they have been in contact with someone displaying symptoms.
Workers will also have to undertake induction training to ensure they are up to speed with public health advice.
Workplaces will also have to appoint at least one worker representative who will work with the employer to ensure measures are being strictly adhered to.
Handshakes will be banned, temperature testing will be carried out in line with public health advice and workers will not be allowed to share pens, bottles or cups.
Vulnerable at-risk workers must be “preferentially supported” to maintain physical distancing, and where possible, be supported by their employers to work from home.
Workers will be organised into small teams that consistently work and take breaks together and must limit interactions with other colleagues, while all staff should be encouraged to stay working from home.
Canteens must close unless social distancing can be obeyed and meal breaks should be staggered. Where keeping people two metres apart is not possible, such as production lines, alternative measures should be put in place, such as plastic sneeze guards, or by maintaining “at least a distance of one metre”.
The protocol also maintains that employers must provide personal protective equipment and protective clothing to workers in accordance with identified Covid-19 exposure risks and in line with public health advice.
Ms Humphreys said businesses should avail of current Government schemes and grants to implement the measures.
“A lot of what’s in the protocol is actually common sense. It’s not going to cost businesses anything to tell their employees not to shake hands, not to use the same pens, to stagger tea breaks or lunch breaks,” she said.
“Of course there are other aspects which will have costs for example the provision of hand sanitiser, disinfectant wipes...I’d like to encourage businesses to avail of the many supports that Government has to help them with Covid-19.”
The Minister also said the protocol is “a living document” and that as advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team evolves, “measures may also change”. She said aspects of the document “will vary from workplace to workplace”.
“What’s practical in a small shop will be different to what’s needed in a large manufacturing factory,” she said.
Ms Humphreys said specific sectors may need to introduce “additional safeguards” and that the protocol “sets the minimum measures required in every workplace”.
“Many sectors have already developed detailed return to work measures which capture most if not all of the measures in the protocol,” she added.
Dr Sharon McGuinness, chief executive of the HSA said there have been over 400 onsite inspections since early March and that every complaint made to the authority is followed up.
The deaths of another 27 patients were announced by the NPHET at its briefing yesterday. There have now been 1,429 Covid-19 related deaths in the Republic. Some 156 new cases of the disease were reported by NPHET. The new cases bring the total number of cases to 22,541.
Compliance with restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the virus remains very high, according to Dr Holohan.