Unions have called on the Minister for Business to expressly assign powers to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to immediately shut work sites who do not comply with Covid-19 safety measures.
As the first stage of restrictions were lifted on Monday, thousands of construction workers and other staff returned to work, when it was revealed that the HSA has just 67 field inspectors assigned to inspect sites on foot of the new health and safety guidelines.
Minister for Business Heather Humphreys has not outlined as yet the exact number of new inspectors that will be hired or which departments and agencies supplemental inspectors will be seconded from.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is to appear before the first session of the new Oireachtas Special Committee on Tuesday, and in their opening remarks, say they hope the Committee will consider making the recommendation to the Minister Humphreys to ensure safety on work sites can be enforced.
Currently, inspectors have powers of enforcement action including an Improvement Notice (IN) or Prohibition Notice (PN).
If, following an inspection, the inspector forms the opinion that the risk to the safety, health and welfare of persons is so serious that work should be restricted or immediately stopped, an application can be made to the High Court for an order restricting or prohibiting the use of the place of work, or part of a place of work.
"In our view this power should be exercised vigorously in respect to any workplace in which the terms of this Protocol are not being observed," writes Patricia King, the General Secretary of ICTU.
"Given the very serious nature of this virus and the possible severe consequences for those who contract it, it is crucial that the implementation and enforcement powers are actively utilised.
"It is therefore essential that the HSA have all the necessary resources available to them to execute a full-scale intensive workplace inspection campaign immediately. Not to do so would undoubtedly risk lives and would be inexcusable."
The Health and Safety Authority will also appear before the 19-strong committee to discuss 'The Return to Work Safely Protocol', under which a range of checklists and templates have been developed for use by employers, workers and worker representatives.
The committee will hear that tomorrow, that in terms of staff numbers, the Authority has a staff of 182 which is made up of administration and inspector grades.