Wednesday, 1 December 2021
Workplace Ventilation (Covid-19) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this Bill. I thank People Before Profit and, in particular, Deputy Paul Murphy, for highlighting this very important issue. I completely support the Workplace Ventilation (Covid-19) Bill. In fact, I am surprised this has not been considered as a serious option prior to now. It is hard to believe anyone would argue against the need for clean air, especially given the fact we are in the midst of a global pandemic due to an airborne virus. We know Covid-19 transmits when people breathe in air contaminated by droplets and small airborne particles containing the virus. Why then are we not putting the steps in place to reduce the risk of this? Surely effective ventilation and clean air are an obvious solution.
If we are going to live with this virus and establish a new normal, we need to make sure there is a low risk of transmission in our workplaces. Employers should be responsible for creating a safe, ventilated workplace in the same way they were responsible for employee health, safety and welfare prior to the pandemic. We need to make sure our workers are protected and feel safe and comfortable to return to work. This is the only way we will be able to move forward and live with this virus.
It is clear that vaccines alone will not get us out of this pandemic, especially in the face of new variants. The Government needs to stop relying on vaccination alone. As well as that, we cannot continuously impose lockdowns forever. It is just not sustainable. We have been told of the importance of clean air time and again by many different experts. It is time the Government stopped ignoring the need for ventilated workplaces and put in place enhanced regulation to ensure proper and adequate ventilation.
The Government also needs to stop giving the public mixed messages. The whole "schools are safe" or "actually, we never said schools are safe" mixed messaging from NPHET and the Government was a complete farce. It was completely absurd. We all knew that schools were not safe. We had all seen the high transmission rates in our local schools and we brought it up time and again to constant reassurance it was not an issue, and then we are told this never happened. It makes a joke of the whole organisation, or lack of organisation, of the whole thing. We know there is an issue in schools but it is better to keep the schools open and that is what should have been said from day one.
Here we are, once again, bringing to the Government's attention the need to establish a right to clean air and require employers to ensure proper ventilation and air filtration. I hope the Government has learned from the mistakes made and will listen this time. This Bill makes sense. It is needed. I sincerely hope we can rely on the Government to support it.
This Bill would not only require employers to ventilate their workspaces but would give workers the right to seek to have their workplace inspected by the HSA. I strongly support this as I believe it is very important workers have the option to request to have their workplaces inspected by an outside authority in order to feel truly safe in their places of work. We need to provide enforceable standards for air quality and the HSA should be able to inspect the air quality at the request of workers.
I cannot see any reason the Government would not support this Bill or consider introducing enhanced regulation to ensure proper ventilation, other than pride. There can be no other logical reason apart from that it is too proud to admit it is wrong and to admit this should have been looked at a long time ago. I see no shame in admitting you are wrong. It is one of the bravest things you can do. I believe this House would function much better if many of us would do that from time to time. There is especially no shame in admitting you are wrong when human lives are potentially at risk and we have the option to protect them.