Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
623. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the requirements including the specific legal requirements that employers will have to meet under the National Return to Work Safely Protocol; the expected number of workplace inspectors that will be needed for implementation of this protocol; the number of inspectors employed by the Health and Safety Authority; the additional number that will be taken on for the remainder of the Covid-19 period; and the estimated cost of additional staff resources. [6561/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 591 and 623 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.
The HSA is deploying all its available inspectors across sectors to carry out both spot checks and other inspections to check compliance with the Protocol. The HSA inspectorate will be supplemented significantly by deploying, under the authority of the HSA, other inspectors from across the system who already have an environmental health, agriculture or other workplace/business inspection responsibilities. As we have seen with the general public health measures over the past two months, 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.
Even with the enhanced cohort of inspectors available to the HSA, they 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 HSAs Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline.
If, following contact from a worker, and follow-up engagement with the employer, they feel that an inspection is warranted, they will follow up with an on-site visit.
Importantly, if, on foot of 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.