Call for extended HSA powers on social distancing

TDs have called for extended powers for the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) in order to ensure social distancing in work places.
Call for extended HSA powers on social distancing

TDs have called for extended powers for the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) in order to ensure social distancing in work places.

There is currently no state agency which has the statutory authority to carry out workplace inspections to ensure that appropriate physical distancing measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19 are in place.

Confusion has arisen over who would monitor sites after Rise-People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy says he was "passed from Billy to Jack" while trying to ensure that fruit producer, Keeling’s workers in Co Wexford, who have been flown in to Ireland from other states in the EU for seasonal work, could adhere to guidelines for their own safety.

The HSA has said that currently it has no powers in overseeing the Covid-19 guidelines, despite Business Minister Heather Humphreys stating in the Dáil last week that she was "talking to her officials about it".

Previously, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the HSE would oversee such guidelines.

However, the HSE Environmental Unit has reportedly stated to Mr Murphy that it is not their role either.

Mr Murphy written to Minister Humphreys to urge the Government to reconsider the issue as a matter of urgency, as a number of worksites, including 35 "essential" public housing construction sites, have restarted work with government permission, while others expect restrictions on other construction and other workplaces will be loosened when the current run of guidelines runs out on May 5.

The Dáil is to reconvene on Thursday, where the Labour Party TD Ged Nash is likewise planning to question the business minister on how the government plans to protect workers.

His party believe that the creation of a single, "go-to body established at the very least on an ad-hoc basis" to formally oversee the guidelines, should be established.

"A basic set of enforceable standards needs to be set right across the board, as we cannot allow a few rogue employers to cut corners on health and safety measures," Mr Nash said.

“This not only puts workers at risk, but also the many thousands they serve daily, and will only undermine the many personal sacrifices being made by the public at this time of crisis.

“On 3 April I wrote to both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation to strongly encourage them to establish a body to develop clear procedures for enforcement of social distancing guidelines in workplaces. Three weeks later, this call continues to go unanswered.

“This shows the inability of the government to strategically think and plan ahead on even the most essential of issues and it raises serious questions about their ability to safely manage the reopening of the economy.

“The reality is that the social distancing requirement will be the ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future, and we cannot allow a free-for-all approach in essential services during the management of a public health crisis and we plan for phased re-openings.

“We need urgent clarity on whether the Government finally plans to create a new body."

Labour have also suggested that a new 2-metre law for social distancing in the workplace, which has been recently introduced by the Welsh Government to ensure "all reasonable actions" are taken to keep staff safely apart, with penalties for non-compliance, be implemented in Ireland.

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