25/06/2020

Key Issues Employers Need To Consider Now In Returning To The Workplace

The Government’s roadmap for reopening business and society sets out when various sectors of business can reopen and the Government, in conjunction with the Health and Safety Authority and the HSE, have also published a Return to Work Safely Protocol which sets out in very clear terms the steps employers must take, both before a workplace reopens and while it continues to operate.

Employers need to be aware that the Health and Safety Authority (HAS) will carry out workplace inspections and provide guidance for employers and if their advice is not implemented, the HAS will have the power to shut down the workplace.  In that regard, employers should keep up to date with the latest HSE advice and guidance.  The acceleration of the Roadmap for Reopening Business and Society announced last week by the government now envisages four phases of easing of restrictions and as a result, certain sectors and employers can open earlier than planned.

The Return to Work Protocol imposes the following key obligations on employers:

  • Covid-19 Response Plan

Employers must develop a plan to address the risks arising from Covid-19 which are specific to the workplace and set out appropriate preventative and protective measures which can be established to minimise those risks.  The risk assessment should consider individual risk (eg age / underlying conditions) and health and safety risk assessments ad safety statements must be updated as appropriate.  The plan should provide for training for all employees regarding Covid-19 as well as a plan for the implementation of temperature testing, use of sanitizer and hand washing in line with national health advice.  A worker representative should be appointed to handle the response to a suspected case.

  • Establish Pre-Return Checks

Employers must provide employees with a “pre-return to work form” which should be completed and returned by employees at least 3 days before any return to work.  The Protocol lists questions, which must be included in the pre-return form including in relation to symptoms, close contact with suspected cases and whether or not they have any symptoms of the virus.

  • Implement Prevention and Control Measures

Employers are obliged to provide appropriate hygiene facilities to their staff and training on respiratory and handwashing hygiene.  The Protocol requires employers to provide for physical distancing across all work activities and suggests, for example, a no handshaking policy, staggered canteen use, reducing face-to-face meetings to the minimum and encouraging online meetings, re-organising offices to arrange for social distancing etc.  These measures will tend to be industry-specific.

  • Provide Support for Employees

Employers should put support in place for workers who are suffering from stress or anxiety and should facilitate working from home / remote working where possible.  The Protocol provides that if an “at-risk” or vulnerable worker is required in the workplace then they must be preferentially supported to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres.  Where possible however employers should facilitate working from home.

The Covid-19 pandemic will continue to present a challenge to all workplaces as they begin to reopen and the Protocol is stated to be non-exhaustive and a “living” document.  Useful guidance in relation to the practical implementation of the guidelines set out in the Protocol can be found in the NSAI’s Covid-19 Workplace Protection and Improvement Guide.  The HAS has also provided a number of checklists and templates based on the Protocol which can be accessed on its website.

 

Article by: Marie Hynes, Associate Solicitor at Augustus Cullen Law Solicitors. Augustus Cullen Law is based at 7 Wentworth Place, Wicklow. If you would like more information on this topic, call +353 404 67412 or email info@aclsolicitors.ie

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