The Return to Work Safely Protocol: a checklist

Speaking at the launch of the Return to Work Safely Protocol last Saturday, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, after some introductory remarks, said the Protocol is mandatory and that the HSA will enforce compliance.

Minister Humphreys said the Protocol sets the minimum standards which the HSA will enforce, adding later in her address that the full details of the enforcement regime, which is being developed, will be finalised soon. The Minister said the HSA will be able to take enforcement action under the SHWW Act 2005 and will be able to “order workplaces to shut down”.

Speaking after the Minister, HSA chief executive, Dr Sharon McGuinness spoke of the “spirit” collaboration by the stakeholders – the ICTU, Ibec, the CIF and Chambers Ireland – in drawing up the Protocol. She said that shared approach is very much a feature of how workplaces have operated on health and safety and that the Authority believes “this shared responsibility is the key to this safe return to work”. Dr McGuinness went on to say the Authority will be involved in ensuring compliance with the Protocol in line with occupational health and safety requirements, adding compliance will be done in conjunction with public health colleagues “given the ubiquitous nature of Covid-19”.

Dr McGuinness went on the say that as businesses reopen and workers return to work regard must be had to existing occupational health and safety . She said that during the Covid-19 crisis “we have continued to see serious incidents and fatalities. She stressed the importance of ensuring that everyone goes home safely from work every day.

Speaking after Dr McGuinness, ICTU general secretary, Patricia King said the Protocol is “is one of the most important documents we have ever produced”. Saying that Congress regarded it “as an essential weapon”, she said it is “the first time we have such an agreed structure in place”. She spoke of the HSA’s powers of enforcement under health and safety legislation, ranging inspections to prohibition and closure.

Ibec chief executive, Danny McCoy spoke about the reopening of business on a phased and safe basis. CIF director general, Tom Parlon said the Protocol will help to get us back to work safely. The chief executive of Chambers Ireland, Ian Talbot said the Protocol provides clear guidance. It is, he said important it can be implemented by small businesses. There will, he warned be costs and businesses will need support.

The protocol has been designed to support employers and workers to put in place measures that will prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace, as the economy begins to “slowly open up” following the temporary closure of most businesses. It sets out the steps employers and workers must take before a workplace reopens and what must be done while it continues to operate. The guidance on physical distancing suggests that while the two metre rule is the preferred option, one metre distances or separation of as much distance as possible may be acceptable (see physical distancing below).

The protocol provides detailed guidance. Complying with the guidance will be onerous (there will be a huge amount of what we used to call paperwork) , but bearing in mind the warnings in some Sunday newspapers of Covid-19 claims employers should, leaving aside for the moment the fact that following the guidelines is socially responsible, consider that compliance may offer to the best form of defence against such claims. That said there are questions that can be raised about the protocol, such as Minister Humphreys’ comment that it is mandatory, about the consultative forum and the supply of information so employers and workers can keep up to date.

Immediately what employers and safety advisers need to know is what they are required to do to comply with and the brief summary below is intended as a checklist to aid employers.

Develop/update Covid-19 response plan

Employers are required to:

Develop/update their Covid-19 response plan
Update health and safety risk assessments and their safety statement
Address levels of risk associated with various workplaces and work activities
Take into account worker’s individual risk factors
Include how to deal with a suspected case of Covid-19
Put in place controls to address risks
Develop contingency measures to address increased absenteeism and implementation of measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19
Develop plans in consultation with workers and communicate plans once finalised.
Employers are required to:

Keep a log of contact/group work to facilitate contact tracing
Inform workers and others of the purpose of the log
Display Covid-19 information signs and symbols
Provide up-to-date information on public health advice
Provide instruction for workers to follow if they develop signs and symptoms of Covid-19 during work.
Employers should:

Review and revise existing sick leave policies
Ensure occupational health (if provided) is available to address workers’ concerns and communicate messages about good hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing
Ensure the occupational health service (if provided) provides training and advice on measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19, as well as dealing with concerns
Make public health advice available if there is no occupational health service
Agree through negotiation with workers/trade unions any temporary restricting of work patterns due to Covid-19.
Employers must:

Establish and issue pre-return to work forms for workers to complete at least three days in advance of return to work. The form should seek confirmation that the worker has no Covid-19 symptoms, is not self-isolating or awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test
Provide induction training for all workers, which should include up-to-date public health guidance, what workers should do if they develop symptoms, give details of how the workplace is organised to address Covid-19 risks, outline the Covid-19 response plan, identify points of contact and other sector specific advice
Put in place the controls identified in the risk assessment to prevent the spread of Covid-19
Implement temperature testing.
The pre-return to work form should ask the worker:

e symptoms of cough, fever, high temperature, sore throat, runny nose, breathlessness or flu like symptoms now or in the past 14 days
Are you in close contact with a person who is a confirmed or suspected Covid-19 case
Have you been advised by a doctor to self-isolate or cocoon.
Employers must, where there is a suspect case:

Include a defined response structure that identifies the team responsible for responding to the suspected case
Identify, in advance, a designated isolation area
Have additional isolation areas available
Ensure the person, who is a suspected case, can isolate behind a closed door. Where that it is not possible the employer must provide an area away from other workers
Provide, as is reasonable practicable ventilation, tissues, hand sanitiser, disinfectant, wipes, PPE, gloves, masks, clinical waste bags.
if a worker displays symptoms during work, the manager and response team must:

Isolate the worker and have a procedure to accompany the worker to the designated isolation area via the isolation route, keeping two metres distant from the symptomatic person and make sure others maintain a distance of two metres
Provide a mask for the symptomatic person, if one is available
Assess if the unwell person can be directed to go home and call their doctor and self-isolate at home
Facilitate the symptomatic person to remain in isolation if they cannot go home and facilitate them in calling their doctor
Arrange transport home or to hospital for medical assessment
Carry out an assessment of the incident to determine follow up actions
Provide assistance and advice if contacted by the HSE.
Employers must:

Ensure hygiene facilities are in place
Make available advice and training on how to perform hand hygiene effectively
Display posters on how to wash hands.
Employers must:

Provide tissues as well as bags/bins for their disposal
Empty bins at regular intervals
Provide advice on good respiratory practice.
Employers must:

Implement a no hand shaking policy
Where office work is essential the office must be organised so that physical distances are maintained
Organise workers into teams who work and take breaks together
Organise breaks to facilitate physical distancing
Reorganise and rearrange working and break areas, for example by placing tables and chairs in canteens far enough apart
Consider closing canteen facilities if social distancing cannot be facilitated
If closing canteens, provide information on delivery options
Stagger canteen use and extend serving times
Organise a queuing system with correct distance markings
Use card payment methods
Allocate specific times for collections, appointments and deliverables
Conduct, if possible, meetings using remote online technology
Provide one way access/egress routes
Prevent gatherings of workers at start and finish times
Adapt sign in/sign out systems to ensure physical distancing can be maintained
Ensure workers sharing accommodation are grouped in fixed teams consisting of individuals who work together
Implement physical distancing during outdoor work
If at risk or vulnerable workers cannot work from home they should be preferentially supported to maintain two metres distance.
Where It is not possible to ensure two metre distances by organisational means:

Install physical barriers or
Maintain at least one metres’ distance or as much distance as is reasonably practicable
Minimise direct worker contact and provide hand washing and other hygiene aids
Make face masks available.
Cleaning must be carried out at regular intervals.

Employers must:

Implement thorough and regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces
If disinfection is required it must be carried out as an addition to cleaning
Ensure surfaces such as table tops, work equipment door handles and handrails are cleaned at least twice daily
Implement modified cleaning intervals for rooms and work areas (especially washroom facilities), with cleaning performed at least twice a day and whenever facilities are visibly dirty
Provide workers with essential cleaning materials to keep their workspaces clean
Increase waste collection points and ensure these are emptied regularly and at least twice a day
Modify the use of hot desks to ensure they are available to identified staff and have appropriate cleaning materials for workers to clean before use.
Use of PPE

Employers must:

Select PPE based on the hazard to the worker
Provide PPE and protective clothing in accordance with the Covid-19 exposure risks identified and public health advice
Ensure PPE, such as respirators, is properly fitted and periodically refitted
Ensure full hygiene compliance.
PPE should:

Be consistently and properly worn when required
Be inspected, cleaned, maintained and replaced as necessary
Ensure workers are trained in the use, proper cleaning, storing and disposal of PPE.
Employers must:

Eliminate physical interaction between workers and customers as much as is reasonably practicable by, for example, providing for online or phone orders and contactless delivery or managed entry
Provide hand sanitisers at entry/exit points
Install physical barriers to ensure contact between workers and customers is kept to a minimum and ensure queues do not form between customers as they wait to be served
Implement a cleaning regime to ensure contact points between workers and customers are kept visibly clean at all times
Display advice on Covid-19 measures in visible locations to ensure that customers are adhering to what is required.
The protocol states

Business trips and face to face interactions should be reduced to an absolute minimum and as far as possible technological alternatives should be made available
For necessary work trips the use of the same vehicle by multiple workers is not encouraged
Workers should, if using their own cars, be encouraged to travel alone and at a maximum carry only one passenger who should be seated physically distant
Workers should be provided with hand sanitisers and cleaning equipment for their work vehicle
Contractors/visitors to workplaces where there are Covid-19 restrictions should follow the site infection prevention and control measures
A system for recording visits to the site should be put in place
A system for recording visits by workers to other sites should be put in place
Induction training for contractors and visitors to the workplace should be put in place.
The Protocol states:

Office work and non-essential work should continue to be carried out from home where practicable
The employer should develop and consult with workers/trade unions on working from home policies.

Workers are required to

Make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of Covid-19
Monitor their own wellbeing
If they display signs or symptoms self-isolate at home and contact their GP for advice
If they develop any symptoms during a shift or while working immediately report that to managers.
Workers must:

Complete and return the pre-return to work form before they return to work
Inform their employer if there are any circumstances relating to Covid-19 not included in the form but which may need to be disclosed to allow a safe return to work
Self-isolate and contact their GP for advice if they have any Covid-19 symptoms
Stay out of work till all symptoms have cleared
Take part in any induction training programme provided by their employer on return to work
Complete temperature testing implemented by their employer.
Workers must:

Ensure they are familiar with and follow hand hygiene
Wash their hands with soap and water or alcohol based hand rub
Avoid touching their eyes, mouth or nose
Not share objects that touch their mouth, for example cups
Use their own pens for signing in.
Workers must adopt good respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette and ensure they are familiar with and follow respiratory hygiene guidance.

Source: Health and Safety Review