Dáil debates

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Workplace Ventilation (Covid-19) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


10:42 am

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

The issue of adequate ventilation in the workplace is extremely important. I thank Solidarity-People Before Profit for bringing this legislation forward. The Bill aims to give workers the right to request an inspection of their workplace by the HSA to verify sufficient levels of fresh air. I have no doubt that the right to clean air would be viewed by most people as a fair and reasonable right that should be afforded to every worker. It is not always possible to achieve this with open windows and doors. In Belmullet last Friday, I could not physically open my front door due to the storm. What are schools and workplaces supposed to do in that situation? It is bonkers.

A similar approach has already been taken in Belgium, where a minimum standard for air quality is set. This was proposed in 2019, prior to the Covid outbreak. Workers should have the right to expect that the air in their place of work is clean. This has taken on new meaning and significance with the onset of the pandemic. We have known for over a year that Covid is an airborne virus and that clean air is crucial in preventing its spread. This has made measures such as ventilation and air filtration crucial in any serious attempt to tackle transmission. I remember the importance of ventilation being discussed in this House as far back as September 2020 in relation to the safety of workers in meat processing plants.

There is a lot I could say about schools. This is also an issue in third level institutions and right through our education system. I commend those who have done everything in their power to keep schools open and as safe as possible. It is atrocious that, even at this stage, the Government is still not admitting fully that Covid is transmitted in schools. I was reminded this morning of exactly this time last year and the issue with Claremorris Boys National School. There was a dogmatic approach by the Minister for Education and the Department in castigating the school and its board of management because there were high Covid levels within the school and they needed to close for their own safety. This is symptomatic of the relationship between the Minister, the Department and the boards of management of the schools. It is not right that parents and teachers are treated with such disrespect. Now there are nine-year-olds on the battleground of Covid. This did not happen by accident. This is happening because the Government has been reactive and in denial of the situation within schools.

I will read out a letter from Ellen. She says:

... I'm a student at [I will not say what the college is]. In college the policy is to leave doors and windows open during the lessons for covid prevention. While this is sound in theory, in practice it is preventing myself and other students from learning.

I have an autoimmune condition and am autistic. I'm often painfully cold in class and cannot focus. I'm an art student and my hands are so cold that I often can no longer hold my pencil and have to leave class to go to buy a cup of tea to warm up. It is nearly December and it is freezing. Often my classmates and I are shivering and have to wear coats, hats or gloves in class.

Leaving the doors open means that we have the noise of outside where the children of [the school next door] are screaming and shouting, and the noise of students and cleaners in the hallways. This makes it impossible for autistic students like myself to focus in class.

Unfortunately the college doesn't have sufficient heating in all classrooms, especially the old buildings to combat this. This is not unique to [my school], a lot of schools in Ireland are in old, hard to heat buildings. The teachers cannot close doors or windows as if a classmate tests positive for covid they must do a report and disclose if the doors and windows were open in the classroom.

It seems there is nothing that the college can do, as the policy of leaving doors and windows open even in winter is in your hands.

The cases may be going up but the temperatures are going down. This policy needs to be re-examined as my right to education and the rights of other students who are ill or likewise disabled are being taken away.

I urge you to reconsider this policy and give me back my right to an education.

That is from an autistic young person who is telling it exactly how it is. I do not want the Minister for Health to respond to me but it is important that he examines this legislation, takes it on board and listens to students and teachers when they send messages like this. What is happening is just not sustainable.


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