We the undersigned call on the Government of Ireland to update its document Return to Work Safety Protocol: Covid-19 Specific National Protocol for Employers and Workers to include an adequate structure that will guarantee independent inspections and minimum mandatory compliance with new Covid-19 specific regulations. It must also include the participation of trade union representatives who already have Health and Safety training.
The situation and risk to public health calls for a response that goes beyond ideology, self-regulation and unenforced guidelines. The architecture for a robust and independent system of inspections of all workplaces needs to be established as soon as possible. This system has to include the expertise of the Irish trade unions who already have trained Health and Safety Representatives within their organisations. This expertise should be utilized in the public interest to ensure public safety and the required confidence of workers and customers in the inspection regime as businesses attempt to reopen.
The Health and Safety Authority is neither equipped nor robust enough to carry out the scale of inspections necessary, including targeted unannounced inspections. Furthermore what inspectors do exist do not have the power to issue the necessary on the spot fines to act as a deterrent and to ensure immediate compliance with the new protocols.
Section 35 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 2005 provides the scope to increase inspection powers and fines and without this the protocols, while comprehensive, are likely to be toothless.
We feel that while guidelines can be helpful and useful there is no guarantee that all employers or employees will comply or respect those guidelines, and it is certain that some will not. Therefore it is imperative that the protocol contain minimum mandatory regulations, more effective sanctions for noncompliance and a guarantee that workers themselves are not penalized or victimized for raising health and safety concerns, or for highlighting when and if the protocol is not being adhered to.
Finally, we believe that standards need to be raised across the board for the sake of the health of us all and the emergency workers risking their lives to keep us safe. This absolute necessity can be achieved with powers to enforce regulations, to sanction those who ignore the protocols and the establishment of a truly effective trustworthy method of workplace inspections.
Brendan Ogle, Senior Officer – Unite the Union (Republic of Ireland)
The Social Democrats
Senator Alice Mary Higgins
Senator Lynn Ruane
Joan Collins TD
Thomas Pringle TD
Paul Murphy TD
Brid Smith TD
Richard Boyd-Barrett TD
Gino Kenny TD