The National Return to Work Safely Protocol

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On the 9th May the Government published a return to work safely national protocol. The Return to Work Safely Protocol is the result of a collaborative effort by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the Health Services Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. The protocol sets out the clear terms and steps that employers and workers need to take before re-opening and to adhere to while they continue to operate. Employers have an absolute duty to implement these new protocols.

The protocol deals with a wide range of issues as follows:

1)Social Distancing and Compliance,

2)Hygiene & Cleaning,

3)Compliance in Higher Risk Situations,

4)Plans for medically vulnerable employees,

5)Extended opening hours to maintain social distancing,

It is incumbent on every business and employer to familiarise themselves with the protocols and to take steps to implement them before re-opening. The protocol is mandatory but it is important to note that additional safeguards may need to be introduced in specific sectors.

The Health & Safety Authority (HSA) will be tasked with enforcement of the protocols by carrying out inspections of work places to ascertain compliance. Substantial works may have to be undertaken by businesses in certain industries and the costs alone of implementing these changes will be significant. The hiring of additional staff or the redeployment of other employees may also be needed which will also create employment law issues.

The HSA will have the power to shut down workplaces for non-compliance.  However, in the first instance advice on shortcomings and support will be provided by the HSA Inspectors through a Report of Inspection. This will be left with the employer after a visit which will include timelines and follow ups. An Improvement Notice can also be served. This is a legal directive from an Inspector requiring that certain improvements be carried out within a specified time frame.  A Prohibition Notice can be served which is a legal instruction directing that a specified work activity be stopped.

Some of the requirements include the following:-

1)Each workplace must appoint at least one lead worker representative who will work with the employer to ensure compliance with the Covid 19 measures

2)Before re-opening Covid 19 induction training must be provided to all workers

3) Employers must issue a pre-return to work form for workers to complete at least three days in advance of returning to work

4)Employers are required to update their safety plans before reopening in consultation with and with the agreement of workers

5)The plan must include measures relevant to Covid 19 eg: social distancing, provision of hand sanitisers, clear procedures around hand washing, respiratory etiquette etc

6)A log must be kept by an Employer of any group work to facilitate contact tracing

7)Employers must put a response plan in place outlining details of how they will deal with a suspected case of Covid 19 in the workplace to include a designated manger.

8)If a worker displays any symptoms of the virus during work hours the manager must direct them to a designated isolation area until they can be transported home or to a medical facility.

9)The employer must then undertake a full risk assessment of the incident to see if any further action needs to be taken.

10)Breaks and rest periods need to be organised so as to facilitate social distancing

11)In settings where two metre separation is not possible alternative protective measures such as the installation of physical barriers need to put in place, such as plastic sneeze guards.

The approach for all employers and workers to take is that these measures should provide confidence to all involved that the safety and wellbeing of each company’s workforce is being managed correctly.

Further information can be found on the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation website. For advice on any of these issues please contact Emma Neville at