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COVID 19 – Advice for Employers and Employees

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Health & Safety Authority, retrieved on 27th May 2020.

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.

 

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. The following video clip provides some useful advice:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztj7JhMt3Wc

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.

  • 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.

  • Should my employer provide me with facemasks, for example, a surgical mask or respirator?

    The HSE advises that there is no evidence that using facemasks is of any benefit to people who are not sick. Facemasks are only recommended to be worn by symptomatic individuals (advised by a healthcare worker) to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people.

    As a result, facemasks are not recommended for people working with the general public who are feeling well and do not have respiratory symptoms associated with Covid-19 (for example, cough, fever, shortness of breath).

    The most important action workers can take to protect themselves from COVID-19 is regular hand-washing, good respiratory hygiene and follow social 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. Link to video

    However, respirators i.e. minimum CE marked FFP2, 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, which can be found at the bottom of this page.

    Additional guidance on fit checking disposable respirators can be found here.

  • 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.

  • 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 or 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.

  • 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.

  • 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:

  • 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.

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

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

    The Authority has produced an Interim Statement entitled Risk Group Classification for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). This interim statement outlines the proposed risk group classification for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus responsible for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This statement is based on current available information and is subject to revision in the light of further information.

    The Interim Statement can be found here.

  • Advice on Health Surveillance

    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 control of noise, asbestos, vibration, chemical agents and carcinogens. No exemptions or derogations from these legislative requirements are available at this current time. However, the Health and Safety Authority will continue to keep this matter under review and respond accordingly.

    The Authority recognizes that employers may find it challenging to undertake certain Health Surveillance activities because of national public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID 19.  The following is advised.

    • 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 and if so this should be completed as soon as possible. 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 and where employee health related concerns are not raised, arrangements for health surveillance should be made as soon as possible.

    * 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)
  • 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.

  • First Aid Re-certification

    PHECC is responsible for the provision of First Aid Certification and has confirmed that that if a Responders certification has lapsed and they are unable to complete recertification, it is acceptable for the Registered Institutions to continue to extend this period until such time that the situation is rescinded.

    This departure from normal standards shall be limited to the duration of the current COVID-19 crisis.
    Please see following link to PHECC website where further information regarding extensions to current licences and certification is outlined.

    Additional information for PHECC Responders, Registered Practitioners, Recognised Institutions, Approved Training Instructions and Licensed CPG Providers regarding PHECC Covid-19 advisory.

    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 certification during the Covid 19 pandemic. Those first aiders can continue to administer first aid in the workplace.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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/.

  • When can I reopen my business?

    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 sets out the timeline for when particular businesses and services may re-open over five different phases commencing on May 18th. The overall decision as to what businesses open and when is one for the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and their recommendations to Government will determine if and when a business or a phase can start. Any recommendations NPHET make will be done while taking account of the prevailing public health advice at the time. The Authority has no role in determining whether a business can reopen 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.

    Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures. Businesses should, based on their assessment and the NPHET recommendation at the time, decide if they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures for the phase that their business is in. It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to re-open once NPHET gives the go ahead. Any business that does reopen must adhere to the Return to Work Safely Protocol.

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