Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
Health and Safety Regulations
572. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation when the national protocol on Covid-19 issues will be published that is under negotiation between the Government, unions and employers with the assistance of the Health and Safety Authority with respect to the reopening of businesses when the restrictions have lifted; and if primary legislation will be needed to enact the provisions of this protocol. [5990/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 547 and 572 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.
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.
While there are clear public health measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Protocol is designed to translate these measures into a clear compliance framework designed for places of work. This is to help businesses to reopen so that workers can feel safe returning to work. The Health and Safety Authority will ensure compliance with the Protocol through a range of measures including advice, guidance, inspection and enforcement action as appropriate under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
The Protocol provides that within the workplace every employer will prepare a COVID-19 specific Response Plan and appoint at least one lead COVID-19 worker representative. The Protocol also provides that this Plan will be developed in consultation with workers. Existing safety representatives in the workplace appointed under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, can play a valuable role in this regard. I am satisfied that this approach will ensure the necessary collaboration and co-operation between employers and employees who share the common goal of keeping workplaces safe.
Phase 1 of the reopening of the economy began on Monday last and, as I said at the time, 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.
A high-level consultative stakeholder forum, under the aegis of LEEF, has been established to oversee the implementation of the Protocol as the economy opens up, in line with the Government’s Roadmap. The forum will include membership from the various bodies with responsibility for health and safety at work, and for public health more generally.