Michael Staines
Michael Staines

12.35 9 May 2020


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The Government has published a new protocol to allow businesses around the country to safely return to work.

Under the new National Return to Work Safely Protocol, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) will be tasked with carrying out inspections and ensuring businesses are complying with the rules.

Each workplace will nominate a member of staff to ensure the protocols are being properly followed.

Temperature checks and no-handshake policies will become the norm in the workplace and all staff will have to undergo COVID-19 induction training before they return.

Business Minister Heather Humphreys said the HSA would take a “collaborative approach” with businesses found to be breaching the rules for the first time.

“Inspectors will provide advice and support to employers and employees on how they are implementing the COVID-19 measures in the workplace,” she said.

“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.”

She said the protocol is a "living document" that will change over time in line with public health advice.

She said inspectors will order the business to shut down if it doesn’t cooperate after being asked to make improvements.

“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,” she said.

"This document provides them with the know-how to ensure that they have a safe working environment for all.”

Employers will have to update their work safety plans with new measures for social distancing, hand hygiene, coughing and sneezing etiquette and to ensure proper ventilation.

Workplaces will also need to keep a record of their plans for facilitating contact tracing and set clear guidelines for dealing with any confirmed case.

Any employee that begins to show symptoms of the virus during working hours must be directed to designated self-isolation area, along a designated route that ensures they don’t come within two metres of anyone else.

The employer will have to arrange a safe way for them to get home or to a medical facility without using public transport.

Breaks will have to be organised to facilitate social distancing and in workplaces where two-meter separation is impossible, companies will have to install physical barriers or sneeze guards.

Supermarkets that have been allowed to remain open through the pandemic will be asked to meet the new protocols and Minister Humphreys said restaurants should use the document as a blueprint for developing their own protocols.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) General Secretary Patricia King said the plan is very thorough.

“To ensure maximum safety in workplaces, it is really essential that workers and employers work collaboratively to ensure this,” she said.

“When we were building the various principles in this document, when we were having the discussion and so on, that underpinned everything we were doing. This has to be a collaborative effort or it won’t work.”

COVID-19 Coronavirus Jobs ICTU General Secretary Patricia King leaves Government Buildings after Coronavirus talks, 06-03-2020. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

She said there are a range of issues workplaces will have to think about.

“Somebody signing into work, well, you can only sign in if you use your own pen,” she said.

“Walkways in offices, walkways in workplaces will now have to have direction signage so you have one-way walkways. That is something I imagine most workplaces wouldn’t currently have but they are going to have to have.”

Minister Humphreys said the protocols are a critical part of the roadmap for reopening the economy.

“The Protocol is mandatory and it applies to all workplaces right across the economy,” she said.

“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.”

The protocol was developed in consultation with ICTU, the Labour Employer Economic Forum and the Construction Industry Federation.


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