Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Workplace Safety

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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520. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the guidance published to date in relation to workplace health and safety standards specifically in relation to Covid-19; if the guidance will be updated prior to 18 May 2020 when many businesses are set to reopen; if the guidance is legally enforceable; if not, if it takes the form of recommendations; the protections being proposed for workers that may be forced to work in an inappropriate manner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6089/20]

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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584. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the guidance published to date from the Health and Safety Authority or the National Standards Authority of Ireland in relation to workplace health and safety standards specifically in relation to Covid-19; if the guidance will be updated prior to 18 May 2020 when many businesses are set to reopen; if the guidance is legally enforceable; if not, if it will take the form of recommendations; the protections being proposed for workers that may be forced to work in an inappropriate manner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6090/20]

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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585. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if the Health and Safety Authority or the National Standards Authority of Ireland will be conducting reviews, inspections or certifications for businesses reopening once certain Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted; the legal protections there will be for both employees and customers if recommendations from the HSA and the NSAI are not adhered to; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6091/20]

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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586. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if primary legislation will be required to place Covid-19 guidance from the HSA and the NSAI on a legal footing; if the recommendations as published are legally enforceable for employers that fail to comply with same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6092/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 520 and 584 to 586, inclusive, together.

As the Deputy will be aware, I launched the national “Return to Work Safely Protocol” Saturday, 9 May 2020. The Protocol was drafted in close consultation with the social partners under the auspices of the Labour and Employer Economic Forum and agreed with them.

The Protocol sets out a clear compliance framework designed for all places of work which will ensure that businesses can reopen safely and that workers can feel safe returning to work. The Protocol is a living document which will evolve with changing  with Public Health advice.

Under the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, the HSA has full powers to oversee compliance with the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in their place of work.  While COVID-19 is a public health issue, the infectious nature of the virus and the way in which it is easily transmitted through human contact, makes it a workplace health and safety issue as well as a general health matter.  Neither health, safety nor welfare are narrowly defined in the 2005 Act, so the HSA has all of the powers that it needs.

Section 27 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 prohibits an employer from penalising or threatening to penalise an employee with respect to any terms or condition of his/her employment, where the employee is exercising any right under safety and health legislation. The enforcement of the Section 27 of the Health and Safety Act is a matter for the Workplace Relations Commission.

In relation to the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) this body does not have legal enforcement powers in relation to occupational safety and health. However, the NSAI has developed very useful guidance for businesses in the context of operating safely taking account of the range of COVID-19 public health measures. The NSAI has published three guidance documents;

- COVID-19 Workplace Protection and Improvement Guide

- COVID-19 Retail Protection and Improvement Guide

- Guidance on Manufacturing and Importing PPE and Medical Devices

Further sectoral guidance will be considered as the Roadmap progresses. Separately, the Health and Safety Authority is currently preparing to publish a range of follow-on supports for businesses/employers as well as workers/worker representatives. These include:

- Checklist for Employers with details on control measures, induction etc.

- Checklist for workers

- Checklist for Worker Representative

- Templates for Return to Work Form/Covid Response Plan

Phase 1 of the reopening of the economy began on Monday last and, the HSA and other inspectors are out there advising and guiding employers on how to respect the Protocol.  Helping businesses to comply is the overall goal of the HSA.  However if, following an inspection, the inspector forms the opinion that further action is required, the appropriate action, up to and including the closure of a workplace, will be taken using the relevant powers. Where relevant, the public health authorities will be involved

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