After three months of lockdown, the chance to put the frustrations of the pandemic behind us and return to normal is definitely welcome. But that’s not to say the threat from coronavirus is gone. To protect against this threat, HR Departments are required to devise a COVID-19 Response Plan. But what are the key priorities to consider when drawing it up?
Moving on is important, but with the possibility of a second wave later this year, there is a need to pre-empt a repeat of recent months through enhanced workplace health and safety measures. It’s due to this need that the Government has introduced a protocol designed to assist employers and workers to work together to suppress COVID-19 in the workplace.
Based on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Response Team (NPHET), this new Protocol highlights the critical value that collaboration and communication between employers and employees have in continuing the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.
So, what are the key priorities to consider when developing their COVID-19 Response Plan? Here, we list the five most important, but we encourage you to read the full official Return To Work Safely Protocol published by the Government for details on other important aspects.
- Appoint An Employee Representative
Collaboration is critical in protecting against the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, but for any collaboration to work, communication lines have to be clear. An individual can liaise between management and employees to ensure measures are enacted and maintained.
The Employee Representative will convey all of the relevant information and guidance from the top down, as well as to pass any feedback on in the other direction. This information includes:
- the signs and symptoms of COVID-19
- how COVID-19 spreads
- cleaning routines
- waste disposal routines
- advice on hand and respiratory hygiene
- physical distancing in the workplace
- the use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
For employers, responsibilities laid out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act still apply, but the COVID-19 crisis has created some add-ons. The most obvious is to have a Response Plan in place, with HR tasked with the job to draw one up.
- identify risks associated with work activities
- assess those risks
- put in place appropriate preventative measures
Different workplaces will have their own specific challenges, but for each the appropriate preventative measures must address:
- social distancing
- availability of adequate facilities
- work practices
- ensure hand and respiratory hygiene is maintained
The Response Plan must be flexible enough to allow an effective reaction to any changes. It’s about being ready to respond and adapt existing processes quickly if necessary.
Employers must now keep a log of employee contact so as to allow the most efficient contact tracing in the case of an employee becoming infected. So, a procedure for recording who employees come into direct contact with (including visitors and contractors) needs to be devised and implemented.
Employees also need to complete a Return To Work Form and submit it at least 72 hours before returning, and all relevant information must be safely retained.
This covers a number of aspects, from ensuring physical distancing and good hygiene practices are adhered to, to the supply and distribution of relevant PPE. So, ensure spacing markers are provided, staggered work shifts and breaks, one-way movement as much as possible, keeping face-to-face meetings to a minimum and the continuation of the work-from-home option. PPE must be provided where 2-metre distancing is not possible, but PPE needs to be usable and adequately stocked.
Employers are required to provide adequate training to all of their employees. Any induction training must also include contractors and visitors, as well as special training to First Aiders, Line Managers and appointed representatives.
Training would also incorporate details on:
- up-to-date guidance on public and sector specific health advice
- how the workplace has been re-organised
- the COVID-19 Response Plan
- actions employees should take if they develop COVID-19 symptoms
- identifying points of contact from employer and workers
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