Ireland’s workplaces will change beyond recognition as Covid-19 restrictions ease, under an agreement reached between the Government, employers and trade unions.
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.
Workers will have to sign a form three days before a return to their workplace to certify “to the best of their knowledge” they do not have Covid-19 symptoms, that they are not self-isolating, or waiting for test results.
The new rules will be monitored by the Health and Safety Authority, which will have powers to overturn poor behaviours, or even to close premises that are not complying.
Meanwhile it has emerged that civil servants in the Department of Transport have been told it is likely large numbers of them will be working from home for the rest of the year.
The secretary-general of the department, Graham Doyle, wrote to all staff "it is likely that most of us will be working from home (to a greater or lesser extent) for the remainder of 2020".
Mr Doyle’s email points out that remote working will remain in place for those who can do so until, at a minimum, August under the Government’s Covid-19 road map. Mr Doyle said he expects a staggered return to work “will likely involve a maximum of 25 per cent of staff being present in any of our offices at any one time”.
Details of the National Return to Work Safely Protocol are due to be announced today after it was considered by the Cabinet yesterday . It will mean social distancing rules will have to be rigidly enforced, including a ban on all except essential face-to-face meetings. Employers should set up one-way systems for staff entering and leaving buildings while business travel is discouraged.
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.
Meanwhile 10 outbreaks of Covid-19 have been identified in meat processing plants and 566 staff have been infected, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).
HSE outbreak control teams have been sent into each plant to try to control the outbreaks, according to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.
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.