Returning to work safely

Introduction

Workers can return to the workplace.

Guidance for employers on the return to work

This page summarises the work safely protocol published by the HSA, the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

The latest work safely protocol (the Transitional Protocol) was issued on 31 January 2022. It reflects the Government announcement on the easing of public health measures and places a greater emphasis on supporting the safe return to physical attendance in the workplace.

Employers should review their existing advice and guidance to make sure it is in line with the updated guidance.

The Transitional Protocol:

  • Describes the steps that employers and employees should take before a workplace reopens to make sure they can return to work safely
  • Sets out infection prevention and control measures to allow a safe return and a continued safe operation of the workplace

You can get more detailed information in the Transitional Protocol (pdf).

The Health Safety Authority (HSA) website has checklists and templates on ventilation, rapid antigen testing and returning to the office.

Return to the workplace

Workers can return to the workplace.

As a phased return to the workplace begins, some workers may be particularly concerned about returning to the physical workplace. Employers should consult and address concerns.

Planning for return to work

All employers must prepare and put systems and controls in place before they reopen their business and workplaces.

Your employer should:

  • Update business and safety plans, including the business COVID-19 Response Plan, the occupational health and safety risk assessment and the safety statement
  • Include how to deal with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the safety plans and appoint a dedicated manager in charge of dealing with suspected cases
  • Develop specific measures or response for dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace
  • Develop, consult on, communicate and implement workplace changes or policies

Employers are encouraged to have a lead worker representative to make sure safety measures continue for an appropriate transition period.

Any mass COVID-19 testing being used must be on a voluntary basis- see ‘Antigen testing in the workplace’ below.

At risk workers

For some workers, the risks from COVID-19 infection are higher. There are two levels of higher risk – very high risk (extremely vulnerable) and high risk. There is different public health advice for each of these groups. Employers should take account of the particular need of workers in the high or very high risk category.

A fitness for work medical risk assessment may need to be completed before at risk workers return to the physical workplace.

Working from home

The Government has called on employers to start to develop or finalise their long-term arrangements for blended or remote working. The remote or working from home policy should be developed in consultation with workers and Trade Unions.

Antigen testing in the workplace

The use of Rapid Antigen Diagnostic Tests (RADTs) in the workplace is a voluntary option. Your employer must discuss and agree the implementation of a testing regime with you and the union (if there is one).

Employers must make sure that public health advice regarding hand washing, mask wearing (for certain sectors only), respiratory etiquette and ventilation are still adhered to in the workplace.

Vaccinations

The decision to get a vaccination against COVID-19 is voluntary. Therefore you can make your own decision about whether or not to get a vaccination.

Telling your employer your vaccination status

In most cases, you do not have to tell your employer whether or not you are vaccinated. The Work Safely Protocol does not currently require employers to collect any information regarding vaccination status and this is not required for pre-Return to Work forms. The Data Protection Commission confirms this in its guidance on processing vaccination data (pdf).

Getting to and from work

You should continue to follow public health advice when travelling to and from work.

If you are using public transport, it is recommended that you wear a face mask or covering.

If you are sharing a car with a co-worker, a face mask or covering is also recommended.

Staying safe at work

Employers and employees should work together to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and know the symptoms of COVID-19. The complete list of COVID-19 symptoms is available on the HSE Website.

Employer’s responsibilities

Your employer should:

  • Advise workers not to come to work if they have symptoms of COVID-19
  • Have appropriate hygiene facilities readily available, display posters of good hand washing practices
  • Give tissues as well as bins or bags for employee’s disposal
  • Empty bins regularly and provide advice on good respiratory practice, including the safe use, storage and disposal of face masks or coverings
  • Provide hand sanitisers, an alcohol based sanitiser must have a minimum of 60% alcohol
  • Give workers instructions to follow if they develop symptoms during work
  • Display information on sign and symptoms of COVID-19
  • Cooperate with the local Public Health Offices if a case or outbreak of COVID-19 is confirmed in the workplace and implement any follow up actions required

If an employee has symptoms of COVID-19

If an employee has symptoms of COVID-19 during work hours, your employer must have a designated isolation area for employees and should follow a specific procedure:

  • The case manager or designated contact person must direct the person to a designated isolation area, along a designated route (make provisions for one or more persons displaying symptoms such as an additional isolation area or have contingency plans in place)
  • Provide a well-fitted medical grade or respirator face mask for the person presenting with symptoms. The worker should wear the mask if in a common area with other people or while exiting the premises
  • Arrange for the employee to stay in isolation before arranging for them to be transported home, or to a medical facility, public transport should not be used.
  • Arrange for appropriate cleaning of the isolation area and work areas
  • Carry out a full risk assessment of the incident to see what, if any, further action needs to be taken

Employee’s responsibilities

As an employee, you should:

  • Keep up to date on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • Not go to work if you have any signs or symptoms of COVID-19
  • Follow the public health advice and guidance on self-isolation, restricting movement, testing and close contacts
  • Report to management immediately if you develop symptoms during work
  • Cooperate with any Public Health personnel and your employer in the event of a case or outbreak in your workplace

Where can I make a complaint?

If you feel your employer is not meeting the guidance in the Transitional Protocol you can raise your concerns with the HSA.

You can make a complaint using the HSA’s online complaint form. You should raise your concern with your employer first to give them a chance to fix the issue.

Further information

You can read the full Transitional Protocol: Good Practice Guidance for Continuing to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19.

Employers can get information from the HSA website.

The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) has COVID-19 Business Continuity Guides and technical resources.

Health and Safety Authority

The Metropolitan Building
James Joyce Street
Dublin 1
D01 K0Y8

Opening Hours: Lines are open on Monday to Fridays 9am - 3pm
Tel: (01) 614 7000
Locall: 0818 289 389
Fax: (01) 614 7020
Email: wcu@hsa.ie
Page edited: 23 March 2022