As the number of healthcare workers infected with Covid-19 nears 10,000, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has reiterated the call for work-related infections and deaths to be reported to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).
In recent months, the INMO and Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI), both of which sit on the HSA board, called for existing legislation to be updated to make Covid-19 a notifiable workplace injury, according to information obtained by the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act.
“It is our view that if a worker acquires an illness in the workplace, it must be reportable to the HSA, and must be examined by the HSA to identify how the injury/illness was acquired and how future injury/infections can be prevented,” the INMO stated in correspondence in May.
Since then the HSA, the State agency tasked with investigating workplace fatalities and accidents, has commenced a Regulatory Impact Assessment on existing legislation.
The special Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 also recommended that the viral infection is made reportable to the HSA as workplace injury.
“Eight healthcare workers have died due to Covid-19 to date but none of them were reported to the HSA, while every farm death and every construction death is reported to the agency,” a spokesperson for the INMO said.
“The State agency set up to protect people in the workplace has no role in this unless Covid-19 is made a reportable workplace injury,” they added.
“Our biggest hope is that the recommendation by the Covid Oireachtas committee will carry enough weight to bring the government on side,” the INMO spokesperson said.
Almost 10,000 healthcare workers have contracted Covid-19, accounting for over one-fifth of all cases confirmed in Ireland to date.
Nurses and healthcare assistants were more likely to contract the infection, representing 44% of all healthcare staff infected with Covid-19 up until October 12, the latest report by the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre (HPSC) shows.
Almost half of healthcare staff that contracted the infection worked in an acute hospital or nursing home. Not all infections are contracted in the workplace, however, as the HPSC report shows that 20% were acquired in the healthcare setting, 24% were infected by a close contact, 20% were infected through community transmission, while it was unknown how the virus spread in 35% of cases.
Meanwhile, figures furnished in the Dáil show that the HSA carried out close to 100 inspections at food and meat processing plants since May.
The agency carried out 85 inspections and 13 follow-up visits between May 18 and October 8, of which 30 were announced inspections at plants with significant Covid-19 outbreaks.
A further breakdown shows that 18 inspections were carried out in plants in Cork, followed by Tipperary (10), and Kildare (7), with a smaller number of inspections in other counties.
Over 95% of meat and poultry plants had control measures, plans, and training in place as required by the HSA.