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 on a temporary basis. 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.

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.
  • 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.

More information on public transport will be published when it is available.

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.
  • 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

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 from the HSA.

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.

Page edited: 25 May 2020