Returning to work safely following COVID-19 closures

Introduction

The Government’s roadmap for reopening business and society sets out when various sectors of business can reopen. Office workers should continue to work from home where possible. Businesses and employees will need to follow detailed safety protocols when they reopen after COVID-19 closures.

This document is a summary of the return to work safety protocol published by the HSA, the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. The protocol describes the steps that employers and employees should take before a workplace reopens to make sure they can return to work safely. It also covers how businesses should operate after they reopen to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

The Health Safety Authority (HSA) will carry out workplace inspections and provide guidance for employers. If their advice is not implemented, the HSA will be able to shut down the workplace. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) will also carry out inspections and provide guidance to employers.

Both employers and employees should keep up to date with the latest HSE advice and guidance.

You can get more information in the Return to Work Safely Protocol (pdf). The protocol sets out the minimum measures needed in every workplace and there may be additional safeguards in different workplaces. The protocol may change or be updated over time. Please check back as we will continue to add information to this document as it is updated and more detailed information becomes available.

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 must:

  • Appoint at least one lead worker representative to make sure safety measures are in place and being followed.
  • 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, consult on, communicate and implement workplace changes or policies.
  • Send out a pre-return to work form to employees at least 3 days before their return to work. The form will ask employees to confirm they have not had symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been diagnosed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been in close contact with someone confirmed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days and are not self-isolating or cocooning. You can get a return to work form template from the HSA website. Note: Employers should not directly receive any test results from the HSE. Rather, the results should be provided to the person tested, who should then pass on the outcome to his or her employer. Employers should not keep the form after the employee has returned to the workplace.
  • Provide COVID-19 induction training for all staff.
  • Put in place temperature testing in line with public health advice.

Getting to and from work

You should travel alone if using your personal car for work or at a maximum travel with one other passenger who should adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Your employer should provide you with hand sanitisers and cleaning equipment for your work vehicle.

If you are using public transport, you must wear a face covering.

Staying safe at work

Employers and employees should work together to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Your employer must:

  • Have appropriate hygiene facilities in place, display posters of good hand washing practices and have proper ventilation. Give tissues as well as bins or bags for employee’s disposal. Empty bins regularly and provide advice on good respiratory practice.
  • Provide for physical distancing across all work activities of at least 2 metres as much as possible. (Staggering breaks, put in place arrangements for meetings and canteen facilities, put in place a no handshaking policy, no sharing of cups or pens, adapt sign in or sign out systems). Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards between workers were 2 metre distancing is not possible. For guidelines on physical distancing in the hospitality sector, see ‘Returning to work in pubs, restaurants and the hospitality sector’ below.
  • Keep a log of any group work to help with contact tracing.
  • Have regular cleaning of the workplace and provide hand sanitisers.
  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and protective clothing where there is an identified COVID-19 exposure risk and in line with public health advice. You can get more information on PPE from the HSA.
  • Make sure employees look after their mental health and well-being and are aware of any employee assistance programmes.

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

  • The designated manager must direct the person to a designated isolation area, along a designated route
  • Maintain a 2 metre distance
  • Arrange for the employee to stay in isolation before arranging for them to be transported home, or to a medical facility, avoiding public transport.
  • Carry out a full risk assessment of the incident to see what, if any, further action needs to be taken

As an employee, you should:

  • Follow the public health advice and guidance
  • Work together with your employer and follow any specific procedures and instructions from your employer to keep safe
  • Adopt good hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing
  • Get professional healthcare advice if you are unwell
  • Not go to work if you have any symptoms of COVID-19
  • Let your employer know if you believe there are reasons why it is not safe for you to be at work, or if you are concerned that you could be putting a member of your household at risk

Returning to work in pubs, restaurants and the hospitality sector

Pubs that serve food reopened since 29 June 2020. Many other businesses in the tourism sector have already reopened or planned to open since 29 June 2020.

Pubs that do not serve food, bars, hotel bars and casinos will not open on 10 August 2020. On 4 August 2020, the Government announced that the move to Phase 4 will now be delayed for at least 3 weeks until 31 August 2020.

Employers should follow the Return to work safely protocols (see ‘Staying safe at work’ above) and Fáilte Ireland’s guidelines for reopening (pdf).

Physical distancing of 2 metres should be maintained between employees where possible. Where this is not possible, physical distancing of at least 1 metre should be maintained.

In food service areas where physical distancing is difficult, your employer should:

  • Minimise direct contact between employees
  • Provide hand cleaning aids that are easy to access
  • Make face masks available in line with public health advice
  • Limit the number of employees in the food preparation area at one time
  • Organise workers into groups to reduce the interaction between workers

If your employer provides you with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it is possible to reduce physical distance requirements.

If you wear a uniform or your workplace has a dress code, your employer should update the company policy to reflect any changes made to what you are asked to wear at work.

You should take responsibility for your own hand hygiene and make sure that you clean your hands for at least 20 seconds regularly throughout your shift.

Fáilte Ireland has support services available for employees in the hospitality and tourism sector:

  • I Am Here provides mental health support and learning
  • An employee assistance programme for formal supports can be contacted on 1800 201346.

Where can I make a complaint?

The role of the Health and Safety Authority is to ensure compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol. If an employee feels the workplace is not in compliance with this protocol which includes social distancing guidelines, they can raise their concerns with the HSA and they will address the concerns with their employer. You can make a complaint using the HSA’s online complaint form. You should raise your concern with your employer first to give them the opportunity to address the issue.

Further information

Both employers and employees can find out when various business can reopen in the Government’s roadmap.

Everyone should stay safe and make themselves aware of the advice in the Return to work safely protocol (pdf). Employers can get return to work COVID-19 templates and checklists and COVID-19 posters and signs from the HSA. The Skillnet Ireland ReBound initiative gives small businesses online training and mentoring on implementing the return to work safely protocol.

Employers can get information and guidance on processing personal data during the implementation of the return to work safely protocol. See the guidance notes on data protection measures from the Department of Business and Innovation and from the Data Protection Commission.

Employers can get information on the financial supports and business advice available to help with their cash flow, payroll and long-term investments. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has set up a business support call centre for information on the supports available for businesses affected by COVID-19. You can call 01 631 2002 or email infobusinesssupport@dbei.gov.ie. You can also find contact details for the Health and Safety Authority. You are encouraged to contact the HSA electronically during COVID-19 as their staff are working remotely and they have limited access to post.

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: 1890 28 93 89
Fax: (01) 614 7020
Email: wcu@hsa.ie
Page edited: 5 August 2020