Businesses that do not comply with new safety protocols aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 can be shut down.
Business Minister Heather Humphreys said inspectors from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) will be able to shut down workplaces that do not comply.
She was speaking at the launch of the Government’s Return to Work safety protocol for workplaces to reopen once the lockdown lifts.
They include regulations for social distancing, hand hygiene, first aid and mental health support for returning workers.
Minister @HHumphreysFG published Protocol to help businesses & workers return to work following #COVID19 closures, overseen by @TheHSA.— Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (@EnterInnov) May 9, 2020
This sets out steps & processes that businesses must take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
More: https://t.co/aCzBTRHK12 #COVID19Ireland pic.twitter.com/jlmIqtxSe9
She said: “HSA inspectors will be able to take appropriate enforcement actions under the Health and Safety Act 2005. This means if a business does not co-operate and comply with public health guidelines after been asked to make improvements, the HSA will be able to order them to shut down the workplace.”
Ms Humprheys said businesses will also have to carry out a survey for workers to see if anyone is displaying Covid-19 symptoms before they can return to work.
They must also ensure adequate supplies of items such as hand sanitiser, and implement induction training so workers are “up to speed” on public health advice, she said.
Each workplace will appoint at least one lead worker representative to ensure the measures are strictly adhered to, and have a plan in place detailing how it will deal with any confirmed cases of the virus among employees.
Business Minister Heather Humphreys is launching the Return To Work protocols for workplaces to re-open once the Covid-19 pandemic lifts.— Ãine McMahon (@AineMcMahon) May 9, 2020
They include regulations for social distancing, hand hygeine, first aid and mental health supports for returning workers#covid19Ireland pic.twitter.com/vLgwMAhEZm
Ms Humphreys acknowledged some of the new measures may make some business unviable but that health and safety must take precedence.
She said: “For some of the restaurants, if they can’t allow a certain number of people into their premises then it won’t be viable for them. But again, these are the challenges they face but we need to consider the one thing that drives us on and that is public health and safety.”
She urged businesses to start getting ready now and to make use of Government support available to fund the safety measures. Other measures – such as telling people not to shake hands or share utensils – cost nothing, she said.
Ms Humphreys added: “It is up to each sector to look at these protocols and make their own decision on how the protocols will work. When it comes to restaurants, pubs and cafes – it is difficult for them but this document gives them the basis to start forming their own protocols.”
She also said some businesses could come back sooner than planned as the Government’s road map to exiting the pandemic is a “live document”.
“If this virus is abated the road map the government has set out to ease restrictions can also be accelerated if we do well and we can also put the brakes on it if the virus increases,” she said.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) general-secretary Patricia King said every employer “has an absolute duty to adhere to the rules”.
“The battle against Covid-19 demands an unambiguous policy in relation to health and safety,” she added.
“There can be no shortcuts or opt-outs when it comes to matters of life and death. Covid-19 does not discriminate and every worker in every sector is entitled to the protection of this protocol.
“This pandemic has impacted severely on every part of our society and economy, and this document represents an important milestone.”
On Saturday, Ireland’s coronavirus death toll rose to 1,429 after a further 27 deaths were announced by the National Public Health Emergency Team.
There have 156 been new confirmed cases of the virus, taking the total in Ireland since the outbreak began to 22,541.
Another four Covid-19 deaths have been reported in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said. It brings the total fatalities to 430.
A further 56 positive cases have also been diagnosed, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 4,078.
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said on Friday night that as the country moves into the next stage of coping with the virus, particular attention must be paid to how people behave in public spaces.
“As we prepare for the next stages of living with this virus, we are learning new norms and behaviours, particularly how we interact in public spaces,” he said.
“Physical distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, safe interactions apply to all if we are to keep Covid-19 suppressed in Ireland.”
Meanwhile, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (Asti) will meet on Saturday to discuss changes to the Leaving Certificate exam.
The written exams, due to start at the end of July, will not go ahead. Students will instead be given a predicted grade by their school and the Department of Education will finalise their results.
The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) accepted the plan but said it needed clarification on some issues.