Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 employers have specific duties to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all employees. These duties include the managing and conducting of all work activities to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of those employees.
Employees themselves also have duties and responsibilities under the 2005 Act and must take reasonable care of themselves and other people who may be affected by the work they are doing. This duty includes co-operating with their employer and following instructions and procedures put in place by their employer.
The Health and Safety Authority has a full range of statutory powers to oversee compliance with occupational safety and health legislative requirements and to take enforcement action where breaches of compliance occur.
In relation to the specific issue of COVID-19, the national Return to Work Safely Protocol should be used by all workplaces to adapt their procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 public health measures identified by the HSE and the Department of Health. It operates in parallel with existing statutory occupational safety and health requirements. While COVID-19 is first and foremost 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 health and safety issue which must also be managed within the workplace. The Protocol clearly sets out for employers and employees the steps that they must take both before a workplace reopens and on an ongoing basis. I would emphasise that, in the first instance, employers and workers have a joint responsibility for adhering to the procedures and practices in the Protocol which are designed to protect the health and safety of all concerned.
I am satisfied that in terms of overseeing adherence to the Protocol, there are sufficient legislative powers under existing occupational safety and health legislation to ensure full compliance with the Protocol where necessary. I would add that, overall, the Health and Safety Authority has noted a high level of compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol, to date, across all sectors which is a positive indication that the majority of employers and employees are taking a responsible and proactive approach to compliance with the Protocol. From 18 May 2020 to 16 October 2020 the Health and Safety Authority has undertaken 5,813 inspections/investigations of which 3,956 addressed COVID-19 compliance.
In addition to inspections, the Health and Safety Authority continues to provide advice and support to employers and employees on how best to implement COVID-19 measures in the workplace through its helpline and website. It has also developed checklists and templates for use by employers, workers and worker representatives, and further material is being developed.
Any employee who has concerns about compliance with COVID-19 issues, or any other workplace health and safety issue, can contact the Health and Safety Authority Workplace Contact Unit (WCU) on a confidential basis at 1890 289 389 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If following such a complaint, there are serious concerns about a particular workplace, the Health and Safety Authority, or another agency tasked with inspecting workplace compliance with the Protocol, will follow-up as appropriate.