I propose to take Questions Nos. 446 and 474 together.
The national Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol should be used by all workplaces to adapt their workplaces procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the HSE and the Department of Health. It is operating in parallel with existing workplace health and safety statutory requirements.
I would emphasise that, in the first instance, employers and workers have a responsibility to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying, and adhering to, the procedures and practices set out in the Protocol designed to protect the health and safety of all concerned.
Under the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has full powers to oversee compliance with the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in their place of work. While COVID-19 is a public health issue, the infectious nature of the virus and the way in which it is easily transmitted through human contact, makes it a workplace health and safety issue as well as a general health matter. Neither health, safety nor welfare are narrowly defined in the 2005 Act, so the HSA has all of the powers that it needs at this time.
The Health and Safety Authority is the lead Agency in relation to oversight and compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol. It is ensuring compliance with the Protocol through a range of measures including advice, guidance, inspection and enforcement action as appropriate and as set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
The HSA is carrying out a mix of unannounced inspections, along with providing advice and information through the HSA Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline, tel: 1890 289 389 and email firstname.lastname@example.org. If, following contact from a worker, and engagement with the employer, they feel that an inspection is warranted, they will follow up with an on-site visit. However, if, following an inspection, the inspector forms the opinion that further action is required, the appropriate action, up to and including the closure of a workplace, will be taken using the relevant powers. Where relevant, the public health authorities will be involved.
The Government is satisfied that in terms of overseeing adherence to the Protocol, there are sufficient legislative powers under the Health and Safety at work legislation, as well as existing and enhanced public health powers and the suite of employment rights legislation, to ensure, and enforce, if necessary, full compliance with the Protocol.