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  • Writer's pictureTomas Collins

COVID-19 - Key Regulations for Irish Workplace ...and 4 Solutions

Updated: Apr 19



The Coronavirus pandemic has upended almost every aspect of our daily lives - the way we interact, how we shop, travel, communicate, socialise and gather now must be tempered by forethought and caution. And like it or not, indications are that this virus is going to be with us for years, if not decades to come - that means businesses must fundamentally reimagine how they plan, control and track how their employees, customers, contractors and visitors engage with the workplace.


All that being said, every employer wants to see their workplaces return to normal; certainly it is better for the economy, for business and indeed for employees that a sense of normality returns to their lives. But a highly contagious respiratory virus is in our midst for the foreseeable future has prompted governments to issue guidance and regulatory control to ensure safe workplaces.


Let's take a closer look at the Irish government's guidance and regulations and discuss what businesses are doing to respond.

 

Regulations


There has been a multi-agency approach in Ireland to returning to work protocols post-lockdown with the HSA, the HSE, the NSAI, the Department of Health and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation all contributing to an abundance of guidance. The links below will bring you to the locations of these documents but we will synopsise the key elements further below.




Synopsis


General Guidance - All employers must:


  • Prepare and put systems and controls in place before they reopen their business and workplaces.

  • Appoint at least one lead worker representative to make sure safety measures are in place and being followed.

  • Update business and safety plans, including the business COVID-19 Response Plan, the occupational health and safety risk assessment and the safety statement.

  • Include in business and safety plans how to deal with a suspected case of COVID-19, and appoint a dedicated manager in charge of dealing with suspected cases.

  • Develop, consult on, communicate and implement workplace changes or policies.

  • Send out a pre-return to work form to employees at least 3 days before their return to work.

  • Provide COVID-19 induction training for all staff.

  • Put in place temperature testing in line with public health advice.


Physical and technical measures


  • Appropriate hygiene facilities, displaying posters of good hand washing practices and have proper ventilation.

  • Provide for physical distancing across all work activities (<2 metres) as well as staggering breaks, reduction of meetings and modified canteen facilities, no handshaking policy, sharing of cups or pens, an adapted sign in or sign out systems. Installation of physical barriers (e.g. sneeze guards) where appropriate.

  • Keep a log of any group work to help with contact tracing.

  • Have regular cleaning of the workplace and provide hand sanitisers.

  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and protective clothing where there is an identified COVID-19 exposure risk.

  • Make sure employees look after their mental health and well-being and are aware of any employee assistance programmes.


Office Planning & Work Scheduling

  • where office work is essential, free office capacity must be used as much as is reasonably practicable and work organised in such a way that multiple occupancy of office premises is avoided and/or physical distances maintained,

  • organise workers into teams who consistently work and take breaks together. The teams should be as small as is reasonably practicable in the context of the work to be done


Workplace Canteens are a particular battleground


  • organise breaks in such a way as to facilitate maintenance of physical distancing during breaks,

  • reorganise and rearrange working and break areas. For example, placing tables and chairs far enough apart in canteens,

  • consider closing canteen facilities if public health measures including social distancing cannot be facilitated. If closing, provide information on delivery options,

  • stagger canteen use and extend serving times,

  • implement a queue management system with correct distance markings to avoid queues at food counters, tray return points and checkouts,

  • put in place use of card payment methods where practicable,

  • allocate specific times for collections, appointments and deliverables,


Case Management


For case management the guidelines go on to say; an employee reporting symptoms of the virus during work hours, the employer must have a designated isolation area for employees and must follow a specific procedure:


  • The designated manager must direct the person to a designated isolation area, along a designated route

  • Maintain a 2 metre distance

  • Arrange for the employee to stay in isolation before arranging for them to be transported home, or to a medical facility, avoiding public transport.

  • Carry out a full risk assessment of the incident to see what, if any, further action needs to be taken


Contact Logging


The Return to Work Safely Protocol advises employers to keep a log of contact/group work to facilitate contact tracing.


  • A close contact is anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes, face-to-face, within two meters of a person with coronavirus in any setting, including a workplace, or someone who has shared a closed space with a confirmed case for more than two hours. Any incidences that meet these criteria should be logged by employers.

  • Should an employee become COVID-19 positive, public health officials may request the log as part of the contact tracing process.

  • The log should include details such as date / names of participants / duration of contact to help contact tracing teams determine who might qualify as a close contact.

  • Where contact details are not readily available to managers (e.g. external contractors), these should also be recorded in case contact needs to be made.



Key Challenges


Clearly, there is comprehensive advice and guidance provided by these multiple agencies but it's also anecdotally evident that there is a wide spectrum of approaches across industries and businesses, and in a certain sense the guidance is deliberately open to interpretation so as to capture the broad spectrum of business profiles in the country.


Particular challenges exist in many of these categories for larger businesses with hundreds (or thousands) of employees. Key battleground areas become much more complex when planning the return of a large volume of people - office/desk management, controlling canteen numbers, contact logging and case management all increase in complexity and administration as numbers increase.


Luckily there are technological solutions that businesses can leverage to meet these challenges head on.



Solutions


  • Office/desk management

Question: what type of technology allows an organisation to define the capacity of a building and allows users to log in and book spaces in that building for a period of time?

Answer: Hotels (no prizes for the answer)


The tech sector has been offering this type of technology (dubbed "desk hotelling"), adapted to the office space for several years and it's quite advanced. It was quite a short hop from there to developing the tech further to adapt it to the COVID environment.


These platforms allow employers to define the safe occupancy parameters of their sites, building, floors and offices - this safe occupancy level is not dictated by the regulation but typically an organisation will assess safe occupancy levels once physical measures have been implemented in office and meeting room spaces.


Once established, the platform enables people managers and employees to book desks, offices and meeting rooms remotely much in the same way that they would book a hotel room.


The tech can be quickly deployed and has a range of additional functionality like real-time occupancy monitoring, automatic close contact logging and responsive cleaning management.


  • Controlling canteen numbers

Canteens and other communal spaces (restrooms, locker rooms, manufacturing rooms, labs etc.) can be problematic areas to control also. Aside from the physical measures that encourage social distancing, how can businesses ensure that they maintain a safe occupancy level in these "enclosed" spaces?


Enter TRUCount - a unique IoT-enabled technology, designed and made in Ireland, that employs smart sensor fields to monitor the doorway(s) of the area, capturing the inward and outward flow of people. A smart screen at the entrance informs people of both the capacity and occupancy of the space (essentially, if it's safe to enter). Management and staff can themselves track the occupancy in real-time using a connected smartphone application.


  • Contact Logging

We have covered the topic of Contact Logging in detail in another post, where we discuss the COVID Tracker App and it's (un)suitability as a Contact Logging tech. We also put forward four technical solutions for larger organisations where pen and paper logbooks are not going to cut it;


COVID-19 Close Contact Tracker
.xlsx
Download XLSX • 782KB
  1. Excel spreadsheet trackers - (download our free template above) stored in a shared location can improve logging, accessibility and isolating Close Contact events

  2. Smartphone Apps (like TracePro Lite) allow manual data entry of Close Contact Events and even have Event Concurrence (where the identified party needs to concur with registered events)

  3. Workplace/desk Management Software (like our Desk Hoteling solution) - these enterprise-level platforms allow site leadership teams to define and control occupancy for the entire site. Management and/or employees are required to book their workspaces in advance and record is kept of where they worked and with whom they shared a workspace

  4. Wearables (Bluetooth wristbands) - these are for those hyper-cautious workplaces. The wristbands vibrate to notify the wearer they are within 2m of another person and all events are logged automatically.


  • Case management

When an employee presents with symptoms of the virus, it triggers a series of actions to isolate and manage the ill colleague, but the case management does not and should not end there. Health monitoring, testing, close contact tracing and return to work planning are key stages of Case Management that need significant administrative effort and with large numbers of employees, this can be difficult undertaking with high stakes.


Employers should develop an integrated case management system to ensure that they can coordinate the communication and status reporting for multiple cases at the same time - it would be perilous to leave this type of management to pen and paper recording as there are a lot of moving parts.


PRODIGEO has been building bespoke planners and trackers on a range of platforms for almost 20 years and can design and deploy a custom system in a matter of days.


 

Many thanks for reading our blog. PRODIGEO Ltd. is currently deploying solutions like these all around Ireland. If you would like to learn more about any of these solutions please visit our website or reach out for a chat using the contact details below.


m: +353851548875

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