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 working with 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.
Biological Agents risk assessments should be regularly reviewed and updated based on current best practice. Further information on employer duties under the Biological Agents Regulations is available here on the HSA website. 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 public health recommendations.
Return to the workplace
On the 21st January 2021 the Government announced an easing of public health restrictions. From 24th of January, the requirement to work from home unless it is necessary to attend the workplace in person ended and a phased return to physical attendance in workplaces can commence. This phased return can proceed dependent on the circumstances of individual workplaces, informed by consultations with workers, and as appropriate to each sector. For further details on easing of public health restrictions see https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/0fc0d-government-announces-that-most-of-the-public-health-measures-currently-in-place-can-be-removed/
On foot of the latest public health and Government The Transitional Protocol: Good Practice Guidance for Continuing to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19, a revision of the Work Safely Protocol, was developed which reflects the lessons learned to date and places a greater emphasis on guidance and best practice to support the safe return to physical attendance in the workplace. It should also be noted that employers, in consultation with their workers, may also consider maintaining some of the practices that were introduced of the Work Safely Protocol, as last published on 14 January 2022.
Lead Worker Representative (LWR)
The appointment if the Lead Worker Representative during the pandemic has facilitated good communication and co-operation of workers and/or their Trade Union or other representatives in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. As some restrictions still remain, the role of LWR will continue to facilitate good communication and engagement.
Rapid Antigen Diagnostic Tests (RADTs) for COVID-19 in the workplace
Certain Rapid Antigen Diagnostic Tests for COVID-19 have been developed so that they can be used outside of a laboratory environment. The tests are classified as in-vitro diagnostic medical devices (IVDs) and must be CE marked. Their use in the workplace remains a voluntary option.
Employers, in consultation with their workers and their representatives, may decide to adopt a RADT regime in the workplace. Employers may also get advice on establishing a programme of testing from their occupational health or medical service.
If a RAD testing system is put in place, employers must maintain personal information collected in line with GDPR requirements.
Notwithstanding any local antigen diagnostic testing arrangements, it is essential that symptomatic individuals isolate.
For further details on RADTs, please visit the Health Products Regulatory Authority website.
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.
The HSE is responsible for the roll out of the vaccination and booster programmes and they have specific information and resources available on their web pages. The decision to get a vaccination against COVID-19 is voluntary.
For further advice on vaccination for workplaces working with the virus e.g. healthcare, laboratories, please see our FAQs on vaccination for those working with biological agents. https://www.hsa.ie/eng/topics/biological_agents/biological_agents_introduction/vaccination/vaccination_-_frequently_asked_questions/
Where can I find COVID-19 vaccination information?
We encourage everyone to read about the COVID-19 vaccine and to get their information from a factual, trusted source – here are the links to the pages with information on the vaccine:
Managing 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.
Health & Safety Authority · Returning to the Workplace
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/
HSA Podcasts and video resources for managing health and wellbeing including Questions and Answers on Stress and Bullying at Work