COVID 19 – Advice for Employers and Employees

The outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has evolved rapidly. The Department of Health is leading the government response in Ireland to this national public health risk and it along with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre is providing up to date information and advice at:

Exposure to COVID-19 may present a health risk to workers and other persons at a workplace. Employers are advised to follow the latest public health advice and identify and implement suitable control measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace. These public health measures should be communicated to all relevant employees and others at the place of work.

NOTE: On the 19th October, the Government announced that from midnight Wednesday 21st October the country will be placed on Level 5 of the Resilience & Recovery Plan for living with COVID-19, the highest level in the plan, for a 6 week period. While every effort is made to keep the information and advice contained on these webpages current, business owners/employers/employees need to adhere to the specific Government requirements and public health advice under the relevant level as outlined in the Resilience & Recovery plan and updates published on Gov.ie.

Employees should follow the public health official advice and guidance including ensuring good hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing and respiratory etiquette, to protect against infections and should seek professional healthcare advice if unwell.

A helpline has been launched for farmers who may have queries amid the coronavirus outbreak. The phone number is 0761064468 and is open from 9.30 to 12.30 and 2pm to 4pm Monday to Friday.

    1. Are specific groups of employers required to undertake a risk assessment with regard to COVID-19 and potential workplace exposure?
    2. Should my employer provide me with face masks/coverings, surgical masks or respirators?
    3. Do I need to notify the Health and Safety Authority if an employee contracts COVID 19?
    4. As an employer do I have to provide sanitary and washing facilities for visiting workers e.g. drivers delivering goods?
    5. Advice for employers in respect to statutory examinations and testing
    6. Advice to employers around Manual Handling Training
    7. Advice on statutory Inspections relating to Construction related activities
    8. Advice on Biological Agent Risk Group Classification for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)
    9. Advice for employers managing legionella risks during the COVID 19 pandemic?
    10. Advice on the requirements for laboratories undertaking diagnostic and research work with SARS-CoV-2?
    11. Advice on Health Surveillance
    12. Diving
    13. First Aid Re-certification
    14. Rider operator lift truck training requirements
    15. What do I do if my safe pass card expires after the 01 March 2020
    16. What are the requirements for the regulation of hand sanitising gels?
    17. Can my business open/ remain open? 
    18. Work related stress during COVID-19
    19. Temperature screening requirements for workplaces under the Protocol
    20. Close contacts in the workplace
    21. Contact tracing log requirements
    22. Procedures for the workplace if a worker is confirmed as COVID-19 positive
    23. Advice on cleaning and waste disposal in the workplace
    24. Travelling for essential business or work purposes
    25. Who appoints the lead worker representative?

1. Are specific groups of employers required to undertake a risk assessment with regard to COVID-19 and potential workplace exposure?

Yes, where the nature of the work poses an occupational exposure health risk to COVID-19 such as in healthcare and laboratory settings, employers are required to ensure that an appropriate Biological Agents risk assessment is carried out. Suitable control measures should be identified and implemented to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection. These measures should be communicated to all relevant employees and others at the place of work.

Risk assessments may need regular review and updating and will be based on current best practice in relation to infection prevention and control. Further information on employer duties under the Biological Agents Regulations is available here on the HSA website.

What actions should other employers take?

For other workplaces where there is no occupational exposure health risk to Covid-19 such as retail, offices, construction, hospitality, transport etc., employers should take into account the most up to date official public health advice and guidance from the Department of Health and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre on how to mitigate the health risk including measures advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for work related travel. These public health measures should be communicated to employees and others at the workplace.

A copy of the HPSC guidance for businesses can be found here.

A copy of the NSAI guidance for businesses can be found here.

Employers are also reminded to review their occupational health and safety risk assessments to take account of any changes to the work activity that may arise following implementation of the public health recommendations.

2. Should my employer provide me with face masks/coverings, surgical masks or respirators?

The most important actions workers can take to protect themselves from COVID-19 is to undertake regular hand-washing, good respiratory hygiene and to follow physical distancing guidelines. The HSE provides a step-by-step guideline on how to properly wash your hands and avoid infection on its website and information on social distancing. 

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol provides advice for employers for situations where 2 metre worker separation cannot be ensured by organisational means and recommends alternative protective measures should be put in place, for example:

      • Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards between workers,
      • Maintain at least a distance of 1 metre or as much distance as is reasonably practicable,
      • Minimise any direct worker contact and provide hand washing facilities, and other hand hygiene aids, such as hand sanitisers, wipes etc. that are readily accessible so workers can perform hand hygiene as soon as the work task is complete,
      • Make face masks available to the worker in line with Public Health advice.

If face masks are made available to workers in line with the advice above, these can either be cloth face masks or surgical type face masks. The HSE has provided advice on the use of face coverings for members of the public. The advice is available here and here.  You can also download the poster on how to use face coverings here.

Respirators e.g.  CE marked FFP2s  would normally be required for workers who are considered at higher risk from occupational exposure to COVID-19 such as healthcare workers, paramedics or other occupations deemed at higher risk. The requirement to use respirators should be based on an appropriate occupational risk assessment and should be task specific.

The selection and use of respirators is very important. Fit testing is required to ensure the correct respirator has been chosen for the worker and a fit check should be carried out each time a respirator is worn. Preventing self-contamination when removing respirators is critical. To be effective, respirators require a tight seal around the face.  Male workers using a respirator should be clean-shaven.  A respiratory protection programme should be in place, which incorporates education and practical training.

Advice and guidance for healthcare workers on personal protective equipment including respiratory protection is available on the HPSC website:

https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/guidanceforhealthcareworkers/

The Health and Safety Authority has also published a guide to respiratory protective equipment.

https://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/Chemical_and_Hazardous_Substances/Respiratory_Protective_Equipment_.html

Useful HSE UK poster on using disposable masks

https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/disposable-respirator.pdf

3. Do I need to notify the Health and Safety Authority if an employee contracts COVID 19?

No. There is no requirement for an Employer to notify the Authority if an employee contracts COVID-19. Diseases are not reportable under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Reporting of Accidents and Dangerous Occurrences) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 370 of 2016).

COVID-19 is reportable under the INFECTIOUS DISEASES (AMENDMENT) REGULATIONS 2020 by a medical practitioner who becomes aware or suspects an instance of such disease.

4. As an employer do I have to provide sanitary and washing facilities for visiting workers e.g. drivers delivering goods?

Although there is no specific Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requirement to provide sanitary and washing facilities for visiting workers, there is a duty for employers to cooperate. It is not unreasonable for workers who visit a work premises, for example, drivers making collections or deliveries, to request and be given access to toilet and hand- washing facilities. In the present public health crisis and with the need to keep critical supply chains operating, companies who are relying on workers such as drivers to deliver/take goods from their sites should make adequate and appropriate arrangements for drivers to avail of hand washing and toilet facilities at their premises. Workers who are visiting workplaces where there are restriction arising from the risk of COVID 19 should comply with site rules and also take into account public health advice around preventing the spread of COVID-19.

5. Advice for employers in respect to statutory examinations and testing

Several pieces of legislation enforced by the Health and Safety Authority contain provisions that require examinations and testing to be undertaken by competent persons at predefined statutory intervals. Such legislation includes the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007) in respect to lifts and lifting equipment and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 445 of 2012), in respect to pressure systems.

The continued safe operation of such equipment depends, in a large part, on the continued safety of the equipment and accessories involved. Failures in this type of equipment can have significant or even fatal consequences for workers and members of the public. Duty-holders have a legal responsibility to maintain work equipment in a condition that is safe and to ensure that any required statutory inspections, examinations or testing is undertaken as required.

There is currently no derogation in respect of the provisions of the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005 or its associated statutory provisions at the present time. However, the Authority recognises that employers, as a result of national measures to prevent the spread of COVID 19, may in certain circumstances, find it challenging to source the necessary competence to undertake such examinations. Notwithstanding any such difficulties, employers are reminded of their general duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the safety health and welfare at work of their employees and that of others who may be present at the place of work.

Additionally, employers must continue to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the design, provision and maintenance of plant and machinery so that it is safe and without risk to health. Should duty-holders have any concern about the continued safe operation or use of such plant or equipment, it should be removed from service until such concerns have been appropriately addressed.

In the event that engineering companies are suffering shortages in their resources, which may inhibit their ability to undertake such statutory examinations, consideration should be given to focusing available resources on equipment present at essential locations or which is critical to the operation of infrastructure and supply chains essential to the national interest at this critical time.

Employers are advised to follow the latest public health advice and to identify and implement suitable control measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace. These measures should be communicated to all relevant employees and others at the place of work. Competent persons who are working on site where there are restrictions arising from the risk of COVID-19 should comply with site rules and also take into account public health advice around preventing the spread of COVID-19. Public health advice is available on the Department of Health, HSE and Health Protection Surveillance Centre websites.

During inspections, the Authority will take into consideration all matters of fact when deciding the appropriate level of action to take where any contravention of the relevant statutory provisions are observed.

As mentioned above, there is currently no exemption for or relaxation of the legislative requirements in respect to the undertaking of statutory examinations or testing. However, the Health and Safety Authority recognises this is a fluid situation, and we are keeping matters under review.

6. Advice to employers around Manual Handling Training

No exemptions or relaxation of the legislative requirements in respect of the statutory requirements under the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005 or it’s associated Regulations are in place at this current time, however, the Health and Safety Authority recognise this is a fluid situation, and we are keeping matters under review.

The Authority recognises that employers, as a result of national measures to prevent the spread of COVID 19, may find it challenging to source training courses or competent persons to provide the required training in the current circumstances. Notwithstanding any such difficulties, employers are reminded of their general duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the safety health and welfare at work of their employees and also others who may be present at the place of work. Employers are reminded of the need to take all measures, so far as reasonably practicable, to that end.

Employers need to take appropriate organisational measures or use the appropriate means to avoid the need for manual handling which involves risk. Where manual handling involves risk that cannot be avoided, employers need to take appropriate organisational measures, use appropriate means or provide employees with such means to reduce the risk involved.

Every effort should be made so far as reasonably practicable to continue to provide manual handling training for employees as necessary with particular consideration to be given to prioritising the delivery of training for those staff who are most at risk. Up to date public health advice on preventing the spread of COVID-19 will need to be taken account of when providing training. Detailed public health advice and information is available on the Department of Health, HSE and Health Protection Surveillance Centre websites.

The following guidance is available on the Health and Safety Authority Website:

7. Advice on statutory Inspections relating to Construction related activities

Several pieces of legislation enforced by the Health and Safety Authority contain provisions that require inspections to be undertaken by competent persons at predefined statutory intervals. Such legislation includes the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007) in respect to equipment used for working at height including scaffolding and lifting equipment and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations 2013 (S.I. No. 291 of 2013), in respect to excavations and personal flotation devices. The continued safe use of this equipment depends, in a large part, on the continued safety of the equipment and accessories involved. Failures in this type of equipment can have significant or even fatal consequences for workers and members of the public. Duty-holders have a legal responsibility to maintain workplaces, and work equipment in a condition that is safe and to ensure that any required statutory inspections, examinations or testing are undertaken as required. Prior to allowing persons to use equipment for working at height including scaffolding and lifting equipment, or use of personal flotation devices or work in excavations the duty holder must determine the safety of same. This is in part determined by the carrying out of inspections in respect to each of the above.

There is currently no derogation in respect of the provisions of the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005 or its associated statutory provisions as a result of the Covid-19 public health situation. Employers are reminded of their general duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the safety health and welfare at work of their employees and that of others who may be present at the place of work. Additionally, employers must continue to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the design, provision and maintenance of work at height equipment including scaffolding and lifting equipment as well as personal flotation devices and excavations so that they are safe and without risk to health. Should duty-holders have any concern about the continued safe use of work at height equipment including scaffolding, lifting equipment or personal flotation devices it should be removed from service until such concerns have been appropriately addressed. Likewise should duty-holders have any concern about the safety of excavations, they must not allow any persons enter same.

These statutory inspections relate to places of work and there is no legal requirement to carry out these inspections during a time when the site is closed down. Employers should ensure that their sites are left in a safe condition for the duration of any shut down. All equipment and excavations must be inspected by a competent person prior to being reused and the appropriate inspection forms completed as required.

Employers are advised to follow the latest public health advice and to identify and implement suitable control measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace. These measures should be communicated to all relevant employees and others at the place of work. Competent persons who are working on site where there are restrictions arising from the risk of COVID-19 should comply with site rules and also take into account public health advice around preventing the spread of COVID-19. Public health advice is available on the Department of Health, HSE and Health Protection Surveillance Centre websites.

During inspections, the Authority will take into consideration all matters of fact when deciding the appropriate level of action to take where any contravention of the relevant statutory provisions are observed.

As mentioned above, there is currently no exemption for or relaxation of the legislative requirements in respect to the undertaking of statutory inspections, examinations or testing. However, the Health and Safety Authority recognises this is a fluid situation, and we are keeping matters under review.

8. Advice on Biological Agent Risk Group Classification for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)

https://www.hsa.ie/eng/topics/biological_agents/biological_agents_introduction/classification_of_biological_agents/final_statement_covid_19.pdf

9. Advice for employers managing legionella risks during the COVID 19 pandemic?

The Authority has produced guidance to support employers with control of Legionella bacteria during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic. It highlights the requirement to continue managing Legionella control to avoid the potential for Legionnaires’ disease. This disease can be fatal and hospitalization is generally required to treat symptoms. With the health service currently dealing with a public health emergency, it is vital that employers take appropriate action to maintain and operate their water systems especially wet cooling systems, so far as reasonably practicable, during this public health emergency.

A copy of the guidance can be found here.

10. Advice on the requirements for laboratories undertaking diagnostic and research work with SARS-CoV-2?

SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 has been classified as a risk group 3 biological agent under Commission Directive (EU) 2020/739. The Health and Safety Authority is in the process of updating the Code of Practice for the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations to reflect this classification. Until finalisation of the code of practice, work involving SARS-CoV-2 must take account of the Health and Safety Authority’s statement, in line with Regulation 7(1)(e)(v) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013.

11. Advice on Health Surveillance

This advice (17th August 2020) is an update to the previously issued Health Surveillance advice. It continues to balance the need to protect the health, safety and welfare of workers and the current constraints presented by the coronavirus outbreak. The Health and Safety Authority will continue to keep this matter under review and update the advice accordingly.

A range of legislation* under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 requires health surveillance to be carried out based on risk assessment. These regulations address health surveillance relating to the control of noise, asbestos, vibration, chemical agents and carcinogens. No exemptions or derogations from these legislative requirements are available at this current time.

This advice provides for the conducting of health/medical surveillance remotely. It does not prevent a medical practitioner from carrying out a face-to-face medical assessment provided a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been undertaken taking into account Public Health (PH) advice on coronavirus and appropriate controls have been put in place. Employers have a duty under Section 26 of the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005 to consult with their employees, their safety representatives or both, as appropriate, in advance of preparing the risk assessment and on any corrective and preventative control measures required. The safety statement and written risk assessments should be brought to the attention of all employees.

For the three yearly assessments of employees who work with asbestos, and to ensure that there is no undue delay in the process, the employer/ employee should make initial contact with the responsible medical practitioner (RMP) if an employee’s asbestos medical certificate is due to expire or in the case of a health related concern.

A RMP should then assess if a face-to-face assessment is required. If a face-to-face assessment is required this should be completed as soon as possible. The RMP should before completing the face–to-face assessment undertake a risk assessment, taking into account PH advice regarding coronavirus, and put in place the appropriate controls. Where a face-to-face medical examination is unable to take place, the RMP may determine how to complete the assessment through other means.

For all other health surveillance requirements, in particular those which are not time bound, medical assessments by video consultation, telephone consultation, questionnaires or other means can be carried out. Where employee health related concerns are not raised, then arrangements for health surveillance should be made as soon as possible. Where a face-to-face examination is deemed necessary, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment should be completed, taking into account PH advice regarding coronavirus, and appropriate controls put in place.  

For new workers, medical assessments should be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking account of the relevant legislation. Such information may be obtained using video consultation, telephone consultation, questionnaire etc. to determine if a face- to-face examination is justified or to determine if a baseline medical assessment should be carried out, such as for example baseline blood lead and haemoglobin levels.

If a face-to-face examination is justified, then a suitable and sufficient risk assessment should be completed and appropriate controls put in place, taking into account PH advice regarding coronavirus.

* List of relevant Legislation

  • Regulation 10 of S.I. No. 619/2001 - Safety, Health and Welfare At Work (Chemical Agents) Regulations, 2001
  • Regulation 12 of S.I. No. 78/2001 - Safety, Health and Welfare At Work (Carcinogens) Regulations, 2001
  • Regulation 20 of S.I. No. 386/2006 - Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Exposure to Asbestos) Regulations 2006 (as amended)
  • Regulation 131 of S.I. No. 299/2007 - Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (Control of Noise at Work)
  • Regulation 141 of S.I. No. 299/2007 - Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (Control of Vibrations at Work)

    12. Diving

    Regulation 17(1) (a) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Diving) Regulations 2018 and 2019 requires that a diver must not dive in a diving project unless he/she is fit to do so and has a valid certificate of medical fitness to dive issued by an approved medical examiner of divers (AMED). The certificate states the period of validity of the medical, which can be a maximum of 12 months and any limitations or conditions that may apply. These limitations or conditions may relate to the type of diving, or the period that the certificate is valid for, e.g. it may be a shorter validity than 12 months. No exemptions or relaxation of the legislative requirements in respect of the statutory requirements under the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005 or it’s associated Regulations are in place at this current time. However, the Health and Safety Authority recognise this is a fluid situation, and we are keeping matters under review.

    During the COVID 19 pandemic, divers whose annual “fitness to dive” medical examination is due for assessment may have difficulties arranging a medical with their approved medical examiner of divers (AMED). In order to ensure that there is no undue delay in the process to provide a diver with the necessary certification, the diver is advised to make contact with their AMED in sufficient time before the expiration of their certificate in order to arrange the appropriate medical assessment.

    13. First Aid Re-certification

    Updated 19th Oct 2020

    PHECC is responsible for the provision of First Aid Certification. PHECC acknowledged in March 2020 that if a Responders certification had lapsed, an RI/ATI may allow a short grace period. PHECC now advise that ALL PHECC certification at Responder level which has lapsed since March 2020, must have been recertified by 31 October 2020. Any PHECC certification lapsed after this date, will require a new course to be completed.

    Please review this link for PHECC updates.

    The First Aid Regulations require employers, based on a risk assessment, to have sufficient first aid equipment and trained first aiders in the workplace. The regulations do not specify the training standard, duration of training and retraining and recertification periods but the Authority will continue to recognise first aid responders existing FAR certification during the Covid 19 pandemic while they wait to be recertified. Those first aiders can continue to administer first aid in the workplace.

    14. Rider operator lift truck training requirements

    The Authority recognises that employers, as a result of national measures to prevent the spread of COVID 19, may find it challenging to source training courses or competent persons to provide the required training in the current circumstances. Notwithstanding any such difficulties, employers are reminded of their general duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the safety health and welfare at work of their employees and also others who may be present at the place of work. Employers are reminded of the need to take all measures, so far as reasonably practicable, to that end.

    Requirements relating to Rider operated lift truck [ROLT] training are provided in Code of Practice Rider-operated lift trucks: operator training and Supplementary Guidance. This COP is currently undergoing revision as part of the Authority’s 2020 legislation update program.

    The COP outlines that persons shall not work, nor be required to work, on, at or with any machine unless they have been fully instructed as to the dangers arising in connection therewith and the precautions to be observed and has received a sufficient training in work at the machine. The training of lift truck operators may be broken down into three stages:

        • Basic training – the basic skills and knowledge required for safe operation;
        • Specific job training – knowledge of workplace and experience of any special needs and handling attachments;
        • Familiarisation training – operation on the job under close supervision.

    The Code of Practice advises only on basic training of lift truck operators and there is no specific requirement to provide refresher training after set intervals.

    15. What do I do if my safe pass card expires after the 01 March 2020

    Arising from the cessation of the delivery of the SOLAS Safe Pass training programme during the Covid-19 emergency and for the period of such cessation, a safety awareness registration card that expires after 1 March 2020 shall be regarded as valid.

    16. What are the requirements for the regulation of hand sanitising gels?

    Hand sanitising gels are biocides and fall under the Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR) –Regulation (EU) 528/2012. Applicants are required to register such products with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) Biocides unit in their Product Registration and Control Division before making them available for sale and use in Ireland. Guidance for notifications and application forms can be found on their website http://www.pcs.agriculture.gov.ie/

    The European Chemical Agency ECHA also have helpful information on their website to support industry https://echa.europa.eu/covid-19 and data to speed up the supply of these products to the market https://echa.europa.eu/-/speeding-up-the-supply-of-disinfectants

    Queries as regards these products should be emailed to the Biocides unit in PRCD biocides@agriculture.gov.ie. Full contact details are on their website http://www.pcs.agriculture.gov.ie/contact/.

    Instructions on safe use will be contained on the product label and further information will be available within the products safety data sheet. It is important that employers and workers follow the safe use information for the product.
    The safe use of chemical products in the work place is covered by the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Chemical Agents) Regulations, 2001 and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Chemical Agents) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 which requires a chemical risk assessment to be undertaken and appropriate risk management measures to be put in place. Further advice and supports is available at https://www.hsa.ie/eng/Chemicals/ and HSAlearning courses on chemical safety in the workplace are available at https://hsalearning.ie/mod/page/view.php?id=37.

    Hand sanitizer containing ~70% Alcohol, would be classified as flammable so significant storage at a workplace would increase the fire risk and they should be stored in a cool place away from sources of ignition. Quantities above 10 litres should be stored in a fireproof cabinet or an area covered by an automatic sprinkler. In addition, an ATEX assessment would also be required for storage of such quantities.

    17. Can my business open/ remain open? 

    Updated Oct 2020

    On the 1st May the government published a Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business to ease the COVID-19 restrictions and reopen Ireland’s economy and society in a phased manner. The roadmap set out the timeline for when particular businesses and services could re-open over five different phases commencing on May 18th.  

    On 15th September the Government published their interim Plan: Resilience and Recovery 2020 - 2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19.  This Plan includes a Framework for Restrictive Measures to help us go about our daily lives as much as possible, while managing the behaviour of the virus.  The Framework consists of 5 levels.  The national level depends on the incidence of the virus and it is possible that some counties and regions could be at a different level to the national level, if the spread of the virus in a particular county or region is high.  NPHET will be monitoring this and making recommendations to Government based on the most recent public health data available to them.

    Businesses should familiarise themselves with the levels of the Framework, in particular the level that currently applies to them.  They should assess and review their activities with regard to NEPHET recommendations, and make informed decisions on whether they can continue to operate safely.  Businesses must also continue to adhere to the Return to Work Safely Protocol and any updates to it.

    The overall decision as to what businesses can open and remain open is one for the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The Authority has no role in determining whether a business can open or not. The role of the Health and Safety Authority is to ensure compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol for any business that is operating.

    18. Work related stress during COVID-19 

    There are as many formal definitions of stress as there are subjective experiences of it. Each stressful situation differs slightly in how badly it affects us and for how long those effects last. There are many causes. Some interact with each other to result in a more extreme stress reaction. All stress has in common an element of panic, frustration, loss of control and negative physiological changes. Our behavior also changes and we interact differently with others.

    A working definition of stress is such that a person perceives that there are social/psychological demands placed on them, which they feel unable to meet.  This inability causes them on-going distress.  

    Acute versus Chronic Stress

    An Acute stress reaction is one where a sudden event (called a ‘stressor’) has sudden consequences just after the event.   Chronic stressors are longer-term, and their consequences slowly unfold and can extend over periods of weeks or months.  Chronic stress results when the causes remain into the long term and the individual therefore has no respite from it.  It has more serious psychological and social consequences and can lead to mental health issues, psychiatric illness and/or disorder.   The Global Pandemic COVID 19 was an acute stressor but as there is no clarity yet as to when restrictions will be lifted and a vaccine developed it is now a chronic stressor. The skillsets and coping mechanisms we have developed for other shorter-term stressors are unlikely to help us as much in the longer term as they did in the short term.  However, we can built upon those skillsets developed in the early days to help us going forward.

    Managing Mental Health at Work during COVID-19

    COVID 19 is a stressor, which has interfered with elements of everyone’s life, and so is undoubtedly a chronic global stressor.  It puts increased demands on us from many angles and invades many areas of our lives.  It reduces our control over our and our loved ones’ lives, our health, changes how we work, alters our financial wellbeing, and it decreases our access to regular social support from activities enjoyed with friends and family. It strains most of our relationships, alters our roles and it has and continues to change our lives, thus bringing mental health challenges.

    Employer’s role in Managing COVID-19 Stress

    The following section has a focus on working from home.  As this is an entirely new situation, there are no ‘tried and tested’ remedies for overcoming this particular stressor, but there are reliable systems in place to deal with general organisational stress. Insights from the general stress research can help us to cope and to improve our environments and stay solution focused.

    It is useful to use the Stress Model used in our WorkPositiveCI framework to organise and categorise strategies employers can develop and apply to encourage better practices to improve our workplace and coping mechanisms. These should assist us in all aspects of our lives, but the focus here, is on improving our working lives. (See www.workpositive.ie)

    In line with the Risk Assessment model, increased demands from work should be identified, acknowledged and attempts made to eliminate or reduce/control them.  Demands include the imposition of working from home, altered work systems, social isolation, reduced scope to innovate and reduced or increased role demands.

    Working from home brings about increased technical demands for many people, as well as increased challenges of time and task management. There may be ergonomic demands, to do with space, seating, light, heat and noise levels. The employer ensuring – as far as possible and practicable – that staff access any equipment available can partly mitigate these increased demands. Employers can also ensure that here is some social cohesion, support – for managers and peers – and time for adequate communication within the work teams. Tasks should be clearly and fairly dispersed and time given to those working from home not just to perform the tasks on a rote basis, but also to have time for taking more frequent, but shorter breaks. 

    During this phase:

        • Employees should be able to attend briefly to household issue as might arise. 
        • Employees should be given some control over their time management, but not so much as to feel isolated.
        • Increased non-work demands on employee resources must be accepted in some circumstances
        • Reduced demands should also be investigated; are people still challenged/motivated?
        • Increase supports should be put in place to help employees deal with them; research shows that supports can mediate the negative stress effects of increased demands.
        • Allow the employee to approach their working week as suits them, self-allocating tasks to suit their mindset and other demands that working for home will result in, for their circumstances. 
        • Encourage a ‘Monday to Friday’ schedule and mark the boundaries with weekends clearly.
        • Send a Monday morning communication, and late Friday afternoon sign offs – team email, ideally, or for smaller workplaces, individual phone calls. 
        • Similarly with the ‘working day’, mark out the time – if 9 am is the start time, suggest a small easy piece of work is done first thing each day, and perhaps introduce a 10 minutes team message (text or email) for the last ten minutes of every day, or alternative days.
        • Marking out and differentiating the working time zone from the non-working time zone can replace to an extent the demise of the actual geographical locator of work being ‘there’ and home being ‘here’. 

    How  managers manage people should alter:

        • Over-surveillance is likely to get strong negative reactions from those working from home as it implies lack of or low trust. Trust is crucial during this time so where there are surveillance measures, they should ideally be more support-loaded than watchful.
        • Setting targets should be maintained but managing the process involved to reach the target should be adapted. Contacting employees needlessly every day may be too much and get resistance – it is counterproductive to employ a means of checking up on a person, which results in them being less productive.
        • Do you know your employees and what works for them? If not, ask them, listen to them, and decide based on the task needs, not based on assuming they need close supervision. Some control over the workweek is crucial for those new to working for home, so contact once or twice a week may be acceptable.
        • Consult with employees about when they might like to be contacted, rather than ringing or emailing at random; that only serves to keep an employee tense and increase feelings of disempowerment. Decide together on best methods of contact – phone, email or other.
        • Not everyone wants their home visible, so do not force options which an employee does not want. Research shows clearly that where control is managed, under conditions of trust and support, employees are likely to be more committed as well as more innovative in how they work.
        • Every few weeks, re engage and ask employees about the system of work, get feedback on how it is working and whether they feel they need more – or indeed less - contact from managers to perform to their best and meet targets.
        • Systems already in place for performance management need not be bypassed. Nor should they be re-invented. Performance can still be target-driven, but the methods employed to guide them should be adapted to meet the needs of a more fragmented workforce working from home.

    Managers and supervisors should be aware that a substantial part of their role is to be supportive and motivational for staff. What they communicate and more so how they communicate is much more important now than ever before.  The many obvious and less obvious challenges people are experiencing may result in their being much more fragile. A harsh word now may push someone into an anxiety spiral whereas two months ago, it would have been robustly dealt with, or ignored. Be mindful of what words you use, your tone and attitude.

    Synopsis

    Employers and employees can devise ways to make working from home during this pandemic less stressful. Some strategies can be developed by the employee for his or her wellbeing and incorporated into their day. Others can be developed by employers to ensure that the communications, relationship management and leadership to all employees, at all hierarchical levels are more supportive, more sustaining and more mindful of human frailties than has previously been the case. Within reason, employers should ensure that employees’ mental health is provided with extra supports and that their systems of work are adapted to these unusual, unique and historic times. As employees return to work, their mental wellbeing should be addressed within any novel Risk Assessments and Control measures devised. Those returning to the workplace will have changed their methods of work, their attitude to work, their insights into the value of work and their motivation to work.  Ignoring this changed social and psychological environment of the workforce would not make for a complete or adequate policy approach. 

        • Work PositiveCI is a FREE State and stakeholder supported psychosocial risk management process that helps organisations identify ways to improve employee wellbeing: https://www.workpositive.ie/
        • For more information on managing stress see COVID-19: Stress and Work (published May 26th 2020)  

    19. Temperature screening requirements for workplaces under the Protocol

    Updated Oct 2020

    Common symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever/high temperature, cough, shortness of breath or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. A fever is defined as a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or above.

    The Return to Work Safely Protocol makes provision for implementing temperature testing in line with Public Health advice. Currently, there is no public health requirement to undertake temperature testing/screening in the workplace. However, some employers may have included provisions for temperature screening as part of their return to work measures.

    In the case where public health advice has issued and/or local public health officials have advised that temperature screening/testing is to be undertaken in a specific workplace, the employers need to implement that advice and workers need to comply with these requirements. If a staff member is recorded as having a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or above, employers should enact their response plan as outlined in the Return to Work Safely Protocol.  Note the Health and Safety Authority has no role in implementing  temperature testing in the workplace.  Public health information and advice will apply, where issued - see hse.ie/coronavirus

    20. Close contacts in the workplace

    Updated Oct 2020

    The Return to Work Safely Protocol advises that where possible, meetings should be held remotely and technological alternatives should be made available (e.g., telephone or video conferencing). In instances where face to face meetings are absolutely necessary, the length of the meeting and the numbers attending should be kept to a minimum with attendees observing physical distancing guidelines at all times.

    There is no time restriction on how long workers can be in the same room observing physical distancing advice, however HPSC Guidelines in the identification of contacts for contact tracing purposes states that "For those contacts who have shared a closed space with a case for longer than two hours, a risk assessment should be undertaken taking into consideration the size of the room, ventilation and the distance from the case. This may include office and school settings and any sort of large conveyance."

    For contact tracing purposes, ‘close contact’ can mean spending 15 minutes of face-to-face contact within 2 metres of someone who has COVID-19, indoor or outdoor.  Spending more than 2 hours in an indoor space with someone who has COVID-19 will sometimes count as close or casual contact.  It will depend on the size of the room and other factors.

    If you are a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 and you have no symptoms or your COVID-19 test comes back negative, the public health advice is to restrict your movements for 14 days.  This includes not going to work.  The HSE provides detailed information on ‘close contact’ and ‘casual contact’ – see hse.ie/coronavirus

    Public health officials will, in the course of the contact tracing process, assess the physical shape of the room, presence of windows, surfaces, etc, to determine the extent to which everyone in the room are actual close contacts.

    Employers are therefore encouraged to risk assess all work practices in their organisations to minimise the potential of employees becoming close contacts of each other, consider the implications of all designated as close contacts to self-isolate for two weeks and to build in contingencies into their workforce planning accordingly.

    21. Contact tracing log requirements

    Updated Oct 2020

    The Return to Work Safely Protocol advises employers to keep a log of contact/group work to facilitate contact tracing.

    A close contact is anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes, face-to-face, within two meters of a person with coronavirus in any setting, including a workplace, or someone who has shared a closed space with a confirmed case for more than two hours. Any incidences that meet these criteria should be logged by employers.

    Should an employee become COVID-19 positive, public health officials may request the log as part of the contact tracing process. The log should include details such as date / names of participants / duration of contact to help contact tracing teams determine who might qualify as a close contact. Where contact details are not readily available to managers (e.g. external contractors), these should also be recorded in case contact needs to be made.

    The Data Protection Commissioner has provided advice on processing data for contact tracing https://www.dataprotection.ie/en/news-media/blogs/processing-customer-data-covid-19-contact-tracing Logs should be held for 28 days, after which time they can be discarded.

    22. Procedures for the workplace if a worker is confirmed as COVID-19 positive

    Updated Oct 2020

    COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease. Anyone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and those with symptoms of COVID-19 are required to self-isolate for 10-14 days, depending on HSE advice. If you are a close contact you need to get tested for COVID-19 and restrict your movements for 14 days even if your test comes back negative.

    As part of their return to work, employers are encouraged to risk assess all work practices in their organisations and to build in contingencies into their workforce planning accordingly.

    The Return to Work Safely Protocol published in May includes a number of measures that employers should consider ahead of reopening the workplace to limit risk of transmission of COVID-19 between workers.  An updated Protocol taking into account available public health advice since its initial publication will be available soon.

    Workers should be advised that they are to stay at home if they have any of COVID-19 symptoms. If a worker develops symptoms in the workplace, the Return to Work Safely Protocol includes a number of measures that an employer must take.

    Testing for COVID-19 can be arranged through a GP free of charge who will assess the patient and decide whether a test needs to be carried out. Further information on getting tested for COVID-19 is available on hse.ie  

    Contact tracing teams will determine who else in the workplace may need to be tested as part of the contact tracing process. Employer’s logs of contact / group work may be used to facilitate this.

     

    23. Advice on cleaning and waste disposal in the workplace

    Updated Oct 2020

    COVID-19 can last for several hours on surfaces in the absence of effective cleaning. It is therefore essential that workplaces maintain thorough and regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. If disinfection is required, it must be performed in addition to cleaning, not as a substitute for cleaning.

    Employers should:

    • ensure contact/touch surfaces such as table tops, work equipment, door handles and handrails are visibly clean at all times and are cleaned at least twice daily, and disinfected if required;
    • implement modified cleaning intervals for rooms and work areas. This applies especially for washroom facilities and communal spaces. Cleaning should be performed at least twice per day and whenever facilities are visibly dirty;
    • provide workers with essential cleaning materials to keep their own workspace clean (for example wipes/disinfection products, paper towels and waste bins/bags);
    • increase number of waste collection points and ensure these are emptied regularly throughout and at the end of each day;
    • modify use of hot desks to ensure that these are made available to identified staff and have appropriate cleaning materials in place for workers to clean the area before using.

    In an instance of a worker becoming COVID-19 positive, extras steps should be taken in the workplace to protect from further infection from the virus. These include additional cleaning measures of work areas that the worker may have been in contact with and additional precautions for waste disposal. Further details and advice on cleaning and waste disposal for different work sectors are available from hpsc.ie

    HPSC Guidance for Healthcare Settings

    HPSC Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings

    NSAI COVID-19 Business Guides

    HSA Employer Checklist No. 5 on Cleaning and Disinfection

    24.Travelling for essential business or work purposes

    For advice on travelling for work purposes see HSE website https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/travel.html and follow the Department of Foreign Affairs advice at www.dfa.ie

    25.Who appoints the lead worker representative?

    Each workplace will appoint at least one Lead Worker Representative to work with the employer to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Under the Protocol employers are required to engage with the workers and/or their Trade Union or other representatives (including their Health and Safety Committee where this exists) about the measures being put in place to address the occupational exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace. This includes the appointment of the LWR. The LWR person should receive the necessary training from the employer and the employer should also have mechanisms in place for regular communications with the LWR and to address concerns raised. 

    See also Lead Worker Rep course  & Lead Worker Rep Posters