The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is calling for Covid-19 to be classified as a “work-acquired injury” to enable the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to investigate a high infection rate among healthcare staff.
The nursing union wants regulations to be amended to include Covid-19 as a workplace injury as figures show that 88% of healthcare workers with Covid-19 contracted the virus at work.
A third of all 25,385 Covid-19 cases confirmed up to May 30 were healthcare workers. Nurses were the largest single group of workers infected, the INMO said.
Nurses (2,591) and healthcare assistants (2,056) accounted for more than half of the 8,018 Covid-19 infections confirmed among healthcare workers, followed by other allied healthcare workers, (1,878), doctors (483), and porters (90).
Almost nine in ten or 88% of infections among healthcare workers were contracted at work when cases of unknown transmission were excluded (2,551). A small proportion of healthcare workers contracted the virus through contact with a confirmed case (4%), travel (3%), community transmission (3%), and as patients in a healthcare setting (1%).
As of May 30, seven healthcare workers have died from the virus, 1,515 have recovered and 4,823 remain ill, while the health status of 20% of cases remains unknown.
INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the figures cannot be accepted “as normal” and that health and safety regulations should be revised to include the viral infection as a workplace injury.
Currently, 2013 health and safety regulations provide for the protection of employees working with biological agents, such as bacteria and viruses. That would need to be amended to include Covid-19.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the infection rate figures and hospitalisation figures among healthcare workers "require additional independent scrutiny in our view and that’s the purpose of the Health and Safety Authority in any other industry".
"For example in meat factories, correctly, the HSA will be examining what happened. We believe they should have exactly the same authority and power in the health service,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha told the ‘Today with Sarah McInerny’ programme on RTE radio.
Amending health and safety regulations to include Covid-19, she said, “may” open up the health service to legal cases but she stressed that the safety of staff was paramount.
“It depends on whether or not the workplace accident and the injury is so severe,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha said. “We want the preventative measures put in place, we want a safe place of work, and we don’t want our members to have to go through legal courts,” she said, adding concern over the potential for a second Covid-19 wave and the "same situation" of a high infection rate remains.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the requirement for healthcare staff to wear face masks should have been introduced at the beginning of the outbreak and that infection numbers dropped significantly after the policy was introduced on April 22.
The INMO is also calling for regular testing of all healthcare staff, for healthcare workers to be permitted to self-isolate if they come into "unprotected close contact" with someone infected by Covid-19, and for a national policy to ensure that all personal protective equipment is quality assured and of “a standard that provides the required protection”.