COVID 19 – Advice for Employers and Employees
The outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has evolved rapidly. The Government is leading the response in Ireland to this national public health risk and 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, the Work Safely Protocol and identify and implement suitable infection prevention and 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 added 19th October 2020
NOTE: 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.
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.
Please note the following FAQ’s may be subject to further revision following the publication of the Work Safely Protocol
- Are specific groups of employers required to undertake a risk assessment with regard to COVID-19 and potential workplace exposure?
- Should my employer provide me with face masks / coverings, surgical masks or respirators?
- Do I need to notify the Health and Safety Authority if an employee contracts COVID 19?
- As an employer do I have to provide sanitary and washing facilities for visiting workers e.g. drivers delivering goods?
- Advice for employers in respect to statutory examinations and testing
- Advice to employers around Manual Handling training
- Advice on statutory inspections relating to construction related activities
- What is the risk group classification for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)?
- Advice for employers managing legionella risks during the COVID 19 pandemic
- Advice on the requirements for laboratories undertaking diagnostic and research work with SARS-CoV-2
- Advice on health surveillance
- Diving - 'fitness to dive' medical
- First Aid re-certification
- Rider operator lift truck training requirements
- What do I do if my safe pass card expires after the 01 March 2020?
- Advice on the use of hand sanitisers
- What are the requirements for the regulation of hand sanitising gels?
- Can my business open / remain open?
- Work related stress during COVID-19
- Temperature screening requirements for workplaces under the Protocol
- Close contacts in the workplace
- Contact logs and contact tracing log requirements
- Procedures for the workplace if a worker is confirmed as COVID-19 positive
- Advice on cleaning and waste disposal in the workplace
- Travelling for essential business or work purposes
- 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?
Updated 20th November
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.
HPSC Guidance on COVID-19 for contractors, employers and employees 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?
Updated 3rd December
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. Workers should also wear face coverings in line with Public Health advice. The HSE provides a step-by-step guideline on how to properly wash your hands and avoid infection on its website. Information on physical/social distancing is also available.
The National Work Safely Protocol provides advice to 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:
- 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,
- Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic screens/sneeze guards between workers,
- Provide PPE as appropriate
- Make face coverings available to workers in line with Public Health advice
If face coverings/masks are made available to workers in line with the advice above, these can be either cloth face masks or surgical type face masks. They should be clean and not shared or handled by others. Wearing of face coverings is not a substitute for other infection prevention and control measures, and may be used in addition to these measures, especially where maintaining physical/social distancing is difficult. It is recommended that face coverings are worn in crowded areas, including crowded workplaces. In addition to this recommendation, consideration may be given to wearing face coverings in places or situations where it may also be difficult to achieve or maintain 2m physical/social distancing. This might include:
- when entering and exiting buildings
- public access areas in buildings, including receptions/foyers
- when moving throughout buildings to toilets, photocopiers, on stairwells etc.
- canteens and kitchen areas (prior to and after eating) or when using facilities such as boilers, toasters.
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.
Note on face visors / face shields:
HSE advice is that visors are not the best option for protecting yourself or others from COVID-19, and should only be worn in certain circumstances – see hse.ie for further information
See hpsc.ie for a summary document on the Efficacy of visors compared with masks in the prevention of transmission of COVID-19 in non-healthcare settings
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:
The Health and Safety Authority has also published a guide to respiratory protective equipment.
Useful HSE UK poster on using disposable masks
3. Do I need to notify the Health and Safety Authority if an employee contracts COVID-19?
The inclusion of SARS-CoV-2 (causative agent of COVID-19) in the 2020 Biological Agents Code of Practice (effective from 24th November) introduces reporting requirements under Regulation 12 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013, as amended.
An employer who becomes aware of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in an employee (e.g. informed by a medical practitioner, public health or other health professional) as a result of the employee carrying out work with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) should notify the Authority. A medical practitioner may also notify the Authority on behalf of the employer.
In the case of a death of an employee from COVID-19, where it has been established that the death was because of the employee’s work with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the employer (or medical practitioner) must notify this death to the Authority.
How do I determine if a case of COVID-19 is work-related?
There are two scenarios where occupational exposure to biological agents can occur:
- Occupational exposure to SARs-CoV-2 can result from carrying out work activities that involve a deliberate intention to work with the virus e.g. propagating the virus in a research laboratory.
- Occupational exposure can also occur incidentally from specific work activities involving direct exposure to the virus e.g. working directly with a COVID-19 patient, handling SARs-CoV-2 infected waste, conducting COVID-19 testing or carrying out diagnostic testing for COVID-19 in a laboratory.
Establishing if an employee was infected with COVID-19 due to occupational exposure as a result of their work activities will require the employer to make a reasonable determination of the relevant circumstances.
How do I report a case of COVID-19 or death resulting from COVID-19 to the Authority?
An employer of medical practitioner may use the reporting template to report a case of disease or death resulting from COVID-19. Download the reporting template here.
This form should be submitted by email to the Workplace Contact Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What work activities do not involve working with the coronavirus (SARs-CoV-2)?
Employees in work settings such as retail, offices, construction, manufacturing, hospitality, transport (air, rail, bus) etc. are not working directly with the coronavirus (SARs-CoV-2) and therefore the Biological Agents Regulations would not be applicable to those places of work including the reporting requirements.
In these workplace settings, employers should implement the requirements of the Work Safely Protocol and the most up to date public health advice and guidance on how to mitigate the public health risk. These infection prevention and control measures should be communicated to employees and others at the workplace.
The Work Safety Protocol (Section 5a) provides further information on other COVID-19 reporting requirements if a worker contracts COVID-19.
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 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.
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 and 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 its associated Regulations are in place at this present 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. What is the risk group classification for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)?
SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, is classified as a risk group 3 biological agent in the Code of Practice for the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013 and 2020 (S.I. No. 572 of 2013 as amended by S.I. No. 539 of 2020). Schedule 4 of the Code of Practice addresses SARS-CoV-2 and laboratories.
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 hospitalisation 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 has published the Code of Practice for the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations to reflect this classification.
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
- Regulation 12 of S.I. No. 572/2013 - Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013
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 its 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 October
PHECC is responsible for the provision of First Aid Certification. PHECC acknowledged in March 2020 that if a Responder’s 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. See here for further information https://www.solas.ie/information-covid-19
16. Advice on the use of Hand Sanitisers
Added 21st October
Regular and thorough handwashing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds can help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses and bacteria. It should be carried out in line with Public Health advice. Alcohol or non-alcohol based hand sanitisers can also be used if your hands have no visible dirt on them. They must be effective against COVID-19. Where an alcohol-based hand sanitiser is used, it must have an alcohol content of 60% or above. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are highly flammable and must not be stored or used near heat or a naked flame. See Q18 for further information.
17. 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. The Pesticide Registration and Control Division (PRCD) of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) is the competent authority for biocides in Ireland. Human hygiene biocidal products (PT 1) such as hand sanitisers and other disinfectants are considered biocidal products and MUST by law be registered with the DAFM and listed on its biocide product register prior to being made available on the market and used in Ireland. See link to DAFM Biocidal Product Registers.
Only biocidal products listed on the DAFM biocide product register are legal to market and use in Ireland. You should ensure that all sanitisers and disinfectants carry a PCS 9xxxx, PCS 1xxxxx, IE/BPA 7xxxx or an EU-000xxx-xx registration number on the label. Each product registered by DAFM will carry a unique registration number specific to that particular product. If the product label does not contain any of these number formats, you should not purchase or use the product. You can check the registers of products online at http://www.pcs.agriculture.gov.ie/registers/biocidalproductregisters/
DAFM are continuing to review new biocidal product applications (namely hand sanitisers and disinfectants) for inclusion on the product register. Applicants should note they 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 https://www.pcs.agriculture.gov.ie/
Further information from DAFM on Sanitisers and Disinfectants
18. Can my business open/ remain open?
Updated Dec 2020
In 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 five 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 adhere to the revised Work Safely Protocol published in November 2020.
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 Work Safely Protocol for any business that is operating.
19. 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 behaviour 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 which became a chronic stressor when restrictions were in place and it was unclear when they would be lifted or when a vaccine would be become available.
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 mind-set 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.
Health & Safety Authority · Returning to Work Under COVID-19
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.
20. Temperature screening requirements for workplaces under the Protocol
Updated 27th November
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 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 infection prevention and control 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 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
21. Close contacts in the workplace
Updated 20h November
The 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, indoors or outdoors. 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 (or not detected), 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.
22. Contact tracing log requirements
Updated 20th November
The Work Safely Protocol advises employers to keep a log of contacts to facilitate contact tracing by Public Health officials. Employers must maintain up-to-date information on workers (full-time, part-time, contract, and agency), and should inform workers and others of the purpose of the log.
A close contact can mean
- spending more than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact within 2 metres of someone who has COVID-19, indoors or outdoors
- living in the same house or shared accommodation as someone who has COVID-19
- sitting within 2 seats of someone who has COVID-19 on public transport or an airplane.
Spending more than 2 hours in an indoor space with someone who has COVID-19 will sometimes count as close or casual contact.
Employers should log any incidences that meet these criteria.
Should a worker become COVID-19 positive, or if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace, Public Health officials may request the log as part of the contact tracing process. The log should include details such as date / name, address and telephone number of the individual worker / duration of contact (if possible) 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. Logs should be held for 28 days, after which time they can be deleted or disposed of safely.
23. Procedures for the workplace if a worker is confirmed as COVID-19 positive
Updated 5th January
COVID-19 is an 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 of a confirmed case, restrict your movements for 14 days.
As part of their return to work (or when re-opening the workplace following a temporary closure), employers are encouraged to risk assess all work practices in their organisations and to build in contingencies into their workforce planning accordingly.
Work Safely Protocol includes a number of infection prevention and control measures that employers should consider ahead of reopening the workplace to limit risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Workers displaying COVID -19 signs and symptoms or feeling unwell should be advised that they are to stay at home. If a worker displays signs or symptoms of the virus in the workplace, the Work Safely Protocol includes a number of measures that an employer must take.
Testing for COVID-19 for those displaying signs and symptoms 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/coronavirus
Public Health contact tracing teams will determine who else in the workplace may need to be tested as part of the contact tracing process. Employer’s contact logs may be used to facilitate this.
24. Advice on cleaning and waste disposal in the workplace
Updated 3rd December
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.
- 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 the case 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. Note: In relation to routine disposal of waste in the workplace, waste such as used tissues, wipes and cleaning material should be disposed of in the regular domestic waste stream. Hands should be cleaned immediately after disposal of these items.
In relation to disposal of waste from a worker who becomes symptomatic while at work, this waste should be disposed of in a disposable refuse bag. When the waste bag is three quarters full, it should be tied securely, placed into a second refuse bag and tied again. The bag should then be left in a safe location for three days (72 hours) before putting out for collection. For further advice, please contact your relevant Local Authority.
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
25.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
26.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 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.
A Lead Worker Representative online course and Lead Worker Representative poster are available on hsa.ie/covid19