What a HSA Covid-19 inspection looks like
This article is is reproduced courtesy of Health & Safety Review and covers what Inspectors from the Health & Safety Authority look for during a COVID-19 Inspection. Although relating to a different jurisdiction the article still gives an informative insight into the process.
When inspectors from the HSA and other Government agencies mandated to carry out Covid-19 inspections call at workplaces, they ask four key questions.
The four questions are:
- Have you a Covid-19 response plan prepared?
- Have your employees received Covid-19 induction training?
- Are adequate Covid-19 control measures in place?
- Has a Covid-19 worker representative been appointed?
Those four points capture the key message from Dr P J Claffey, who leads the Authority’s field inspectorate as programme manager for operational compliance and prevention, when he addressed a recent webinar attended by over 360 people.
The webinar, on the topic of Meeting the Challenges of Health and Safety at Work amid Covid-19, was organised by La Touche Training. Attendees also heard solicitor Niall Sexton, from the law firm DAC Beachcroft, speak about legal issues around returning to work.
In a presentation notable for its clarity, Dr Claffey provided those responsible for the management of workplaces with a clear template of what they need to do, to demonstrate compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol.
The four key questions
Have you a Covid-19 response plan prepared?
The first thing the visiting inspector will ask is to look at the Covid-19 response plan. The inspector will then ask:
- Does the plan cover what the Covid-19 symptoms are and what you the employer should do, if you have an employee who shows symptoms?
- Were workers consulted on preparing the plan?
- Have at risk/vulnerable workers been identified?
- Are posters/signage informing workers of correct respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene displayed?
- Has Covid-19 induction training been provided to employees?
- Does that training cover the key public health requirements, such as hand hygiene, sanitiser facilities, welfare/handwashing facilities and cleaning materials?
- Does it cover the two-metre social distancing rule, which as Dr Claffey pointed out, is still in place (he was speaking on June 29th), for the work to be done and the required safety measures?
- If two-metre social distancing cannot be achieved, does the response plan set out other control measures, such as Perspex guards and barriers, with PPE as a last resort?
- Are break areas and times established to comply with physical distancing, by for example placing tables and chairs apart, staggering breaks and having workers’ pods?
- Does the response plan cover alternative arrangements, such as bringing in one’s own lunch?
- Are there supports for workers suffering from anxiety or stress?
Speaking about the use of masks, Dr Claffey said public health guidelines are changing and masks are now obligatory on public transport.
Covid-19 induction training
Inspectors will look for evidence that Covid-19 induction training has taken place. Among the proofs they will look for are training records and sign-in sheets. They will want to talk to workers and find out if they are familiar with what they must do if they show symptoms. They will look for and speak with the Covid-19 representative.
Adequate control measures
Inspectors will look to see if adequate control measures have actually been implemented. They will, for example, look for two-metre social distancing signs, the availability of hand sanitisers and the cleaning of surfaces at the start and end of shifts.
They will check if there is a contact log for contact tracing and a procedure for dealing with a suspected case. Dr Claffey also said inspectors will check if an isolation room is available and if that is not possible, what arrangements are in place to minimise contact as much as possible.
Another question which will come up is whether the need for workers to travel to work together has been considered and eliminated as much as possible. If not, what arrangements are in place to facilitate as much physical distancing as possible and has the wearing of masks been considered
Two other questions which will come up are:
- Is guidance for shared worker accommodation available?
- Is working from home facilitated where possible?
Covid-19 worker representatives
Inspectors will look for evidence that a Covid-19 worker representative has been appointed and they will speak to that person. They will enquire if the Covid-19 representative has been trained and is familiar with the response plan.
For the employers looking for guidance, one of the benefits of Dr Claffey’s presentation was the openness with which he addressed difficult issues, such as appointing a lead representative in a small workplace. Giving the example of a retail shop with two or three workers, he said the Authority’s approach would be guided by what would be reasonably practicable – although he did not say the Authority would not require the appointment of a representative.
Inspectors will want to know that there is a system for workers to raise concerns and have them responded to and that worker representatives are aware of their what their role involves.
Dr Claffey made it clear that while the Protocol itself is not enforceable, employers have responsibilities under the SHWW Act 2005 and other health and safety legislation. He pointed out employers’ duties under section 8 (duty of employers), section 10 (instruction and training, section 12 (duties to others), section 15 (duties of those who control places of work), section 19 (risk assessments), section 20 (safety statements), section 25 (safety representatives) and section 26 (consultation).
Explaining the link between these sections of the 2005 Act and the protocol, he said: “You can see how they can be expanded to cover Covid-19”. He said risk assessments and safety statements need to be expanded in order to comply with the Protocol and public health guidance.
Inspectors, Dr Claffey said, are seeking compliance with health and safety law, but they are also in the business of promoting best practices in managing health and safety at work. Saying that “we see some excellent practices and the not so good”, he said the Authority shares best practices with others to raise standards where improvement is needed.
Where the Authority finds breaches of the Protocol that breach health and safety legislation, it will enforce the Covid-19 Protocol using health and safety legislation. This may mean serving an improvement notice or a prohibition notice. Where there is a minor breach and they want to give good advice, inspectors will hand out ‘Report of Inspection’ letters.
Compliance is good
Providing details from the 2,000 plus inspections carried out up to June 27th, Dr Claffey said: “So far our inspections have shown there is very good compliance with the Protocol”.
Across the range of sectors inspected, the overall findings were that 92% of workplaces had Covid-19 control measures in place, 85% of employees had received induction training, in 74% of workplaces a Covid-19 response plan was being prepared and in 70% of workplaces a Covid-19 worker representative had been appointed. Rates of compliance were high in construction, retail and manufacturing, but lower in transport/storage and administration.
Speaking about the work of the Authority’s Workplace Contact Unit, which is the first port of call for enquiries and complaints, Dr Claffey said all are followed up and where warranted, inspectors are sent out to investigate. The HSA has told HSR that in the period from March 1st to June 27th, 632 Covid-19 related complaints have been received.
The risk of legal action
Speaking about the legal implications of the Return to Work Safely Protocol, Mr Sexton confirmed Dr Claffey’s remark that the Protocol was not of itself legally enforceable, but he pointed employers have duties under sections 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the SHWW Act 2005 and that breaches of those provisions where Covid-19 applied could result in the HSA taking enforcement action.
He went on to warn that for employers, the litigation “risk is for civil liability and employment law claims” rather than prosecution. He urged employers to address stress and risks for home workers.
The seminar was the first in a series of seminars on Return to Work and Employment Law organised by La Touche Training. For details of seminars on working remotely, mental health and wellbeing, data protection and confidentiality, and employment law – a practical guide, visit the La Touche website, www.latouchetraining.ie.
This article is reproduced courtesy of Health & Safety Review.
Find out further information on subscription to the HSR magazine.
This article is for informational/educational purposes only. Nothing in the material provided constitutes legal or professional advice. NI Safety Group (and HSR) do not accept any liability whatsoever for the contents, usage or onward transmission including any loss or damage howsoever arising out of the use or reliance on its contents. In providing this information NI Safety Group (and HSR) are not acting in an advisory capacity or as a health and safety consultants and it remains your responsibility to ensure that you are meeting your legal obligations.
The material provided is protected by copyright. It may not be copied, reproduced, republished, downloaded, posted, broadcast or transmitted in any way except for your own personal, non-commercial use. Prior written consent of NI Safety Group and the author must be obtained for any other use of material.