Temperature testing, staggered breaks, new workspace layouts and a ban on sharing items are all part of a new protocol for businesses to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, has today published the National “Return to Work Safely Protocol”.
As businesses look to reopen on a phased basis from 18th May, the Protocol sets out the steps and processes that employers and staff must take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol is mandatory and it applies to all workplaces right across the economy.
Standard measures include COVID-19 induction training for all workers before a business reopens.
Breaks and rest periods should be organised so as to facilitate social distancing. At-risk or vulnerable workers must be given preferential support if they must be in the workplace. Otherwise, employers should enable vulnerable workers to work from home where possible. To minimise risks, employers must implement temperature testing in line with Public Health advice.
Office work should continue to be carried out at home, where practicable and non-essential work, the document states.
The protocol tells employers to implement a no hand shaking policy, while workers must not share objects that touch their mouth, for example, bottles or cups, and use their own pens for signing in.
Employers will issue a pre-return to work form for workers to complete at least 3 days in advance of the return to work. This form should seek confirmation that the worker, to the best of their knowledge, has no symptoms of COVID-19 and also confirm that the worker is not self-isolating or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) will be the lead agency overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace. Businesses that do not cooperate and comply with the public health guidelines after being asked to make improvements will be ordered to shut down.
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.
In settings where workers cannot be 2m apart, employers have been told to install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards between workers and make face masks available to the workers.
Any worker who displays any symptoms of the virus during work hours will be directed to a designated isolation area, staying 2m away from others, before being transported home, or to a medical facility, avoiding public transport.
Furthermore, business trips and face-to-face interactions should be reduced to the absolute minimum.
“Collaboration between employers and workers will be central to the success of our return to work,” said Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD.
Minister Humphreys continued: “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 full document is available to read online at Return to Work Safely Protocol
If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or firstname.lastname@example.org