Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
Health and Safety Inspections
570. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to ensure the HSA can carry out on-site inspections of workplaces as a result of complaints from workers over unsafe practices in regard to Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5969/20]
571. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to empower the HSA to close down workplaces that are in breach of Covid-19 safety guidelines and ensure the protection of employees; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5970/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 570 and 571 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.
As we have seen with the general public health measures that we have all been asked to observe, most people are complying with the rules. We can expect the same from employers and workers, most of who want to get back to work, and want the workplace to be safe, for them and for the families that they are returning to in the evenings. I am expecting employers and workers, in line with what is set out in the Protocol, to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying the clear measures set out in the Protocol, for the health and safety of all concerned. The HSA inspectors cannot be expected to go into every business in the country. That would be entirely unrealistic and unachievable. What they will do is a mix of unannounced inspections, along with providing advice and information through the HSA Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline. If, following contact from a worker, and engagement with the employer, they feel that an inspection is warranted, they will follow up with an on-site visit. 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.