Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
Health and Safety Regulations
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 Protocol is applicable to all industry sectors, setting minimum standards and is not designed to prohibit the introduction of further specific measures in particular sectors or workplaces, as long as they enhance the measures set out in the Protocol. The Protocol is a living document.
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.
Phase 1 of the reopening of the economy began on Monday last, 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.