Employers have been faced with numerous new challenges and responsibilities in the wake of Covid-19. This article aims to make it easier for employers to be aware of their new responsibilities to their workers.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act is the main piece of legislation that governs a safe workplace and requires employers to provide a safe working environment. Employers also need to be vigilant to protect themselves from civil claims in relation to workplace injuries. There is no relaxation of the usual rules during this crisis.

Covid-19 is a new threat and must be factored into health and safety planning. Employers must conduct a review of their health and safety risk assessments, their health and safety policies and their safety statement. They must consider whether it is safe to open their doors to workers,  if doing so creates a risk of exposure to Covid-19, and how that risk can be managed. Particular attention must be given to social distancing, hand hygiene, disposing of tissues and clinical waste, respiratory etiquette and proper ventilation of the workplace.

A response plan must be put in place for dealing with any suspected case of Covid-19. If a worker becomes symptomatic there must be an isolation room available, and a designated route to that room so that contact with others is avoided. The worker must remain in the room until arrangements are made by the employer for their transport home or to a medical facility. The employer must then carry out a risk assessment in relation to the incident to decide if any further action is needed.

Employers need to follow public health advice in respect of their employees and anyone else who comes onto their premises or into contact with their employees. Consideration should be given to the use of personal protective equipment where appropriate, as well as sneeze-guards where workers are required to be within 2 meters of another person, the availability of hand washing facilities and hand-sanitisers. It may be necessary to change working practices and scheduling so as to reduce contacts between workers.

A record must be kept of any group work. Contact details should be kept of all persons who enter your premises or come into close contact with your workers. It is important to remember that data protection rules apply to this information, so best practice in relation to privacy must be maintained.

The government’s health regulations require that all employees complete a return to work questionnaire prior to their return to work, and undertake health and safety training in respect of Covid-19. A lead worker must be appointed to ensure compliance with Covid-19 best practice.

If your employees are working from home for the first time, it is also necessary to complete a health and safety risk assessment with regards to their workspaces, and working hours.

The above is intended for information purposes only, and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Please contact us on 01 -676 3257 for advice specific to your needs. We, at Fitzsimons Redmond LLP, would be delighted to work with you to ensure compliance with your employer obligations in relation to health and safety at work.

By Lisa Quinn O’Flaherty, solicitor at Fitzsimons Redmond LLP