There’s been so much public health advice that it’s difficult for workers to know what to expect as they leave their box rooms and kitchen tables to return to the office.
Here we look at the most up-to-date advice from the Government’s national guidance document, the Work Safely Protocol.
It sets out the minimum measures needed in every workplace to prevent the spread of the virus.
1 Before you go back
Employers should have carried out risk assessments on workplaces and communal areas and given the results to staff in a clear format.
You should get details of cleaning routines, waste disposal and the names of lead worker representatives to make sure Covid-19 measures are adhered to.
You can expect a pre-return to work form and induction training on your employer’s Covid-19 response plan.
2 Working from home
Working from the office began on September 20 on a phased and staggered basis.
The Government has called on employers to consult with workers to finalise long-term arrangements for blended working. Although many employers are offering hybrid working, employees do not have a legal right to work from home. The Government has promised to legislate for a legal right to request to work from home. Employers can still say ‘no’ but they have to give a reasoned explanation.
If you opt for hybrid working, you can claim some expenses back from Revenue. Some employers pay €3.20 a day but many don’t.
Leo Varadkar has hinted that a package allowing workers to write off more expenses against tax may be announced in the Budget.
The protocol says meetings should be conducted online and remotely as much as possible.
Where face-to-face meetings take place, the length of the meeting and the numbers attending should be kept to a minimum and participants must maintain physical distancing. There should be proper ventilation.
5 High-risk workers
Employers must make sure they can maintain a physical distance of two metres from others. They should enable them to work from home where possible.
The decision to get a vaccination is voluntary and workers do not have to tell their boss if they have had one. Employers are only required to make vaccination available to those working with biological agents such as in healthcare and lab settings.
7 The office
⬤ Social distancing – Where two-metre physical distancing is not possible, barriers like clear plastic sneeze guards can be used.
⬤ Hot desks – Staff using these should be identified. Cleaning materials should be supplied for workers to clean the area before and after use.
⬤CO2 monitors – these should be provided where risk assessments advise.
⬤ Canteens – these should be shut if social distancing is not possible. If open, they should have good queue management systems in place and workers should be able to pay by card.
⬤ Ventilation – Ventilation systems should be checked for adequate supply of fresh air and recirculating untreated air avoided. But the protocol says there is no need to switch off air conditioning.
⬤ A designated isolation area, preferably with a closed door, should be set up for those with symptoms.
⬤Sanitisers – alcohol-based sanitisers should have a minimum of 60pc alcohol.
⬤ Temperature checks – these may be advised by public health officials in certain sectors.
⬤ Cleaning – regularly touched handles and work equipment should be cleaned twice a day. Disinfection should be performed as well as cleaning, never as a substitute.
⬤ Antigen tests – The protocol says these are an aid to public health in detecting cases, but should not be used to give a green light for a workplace to operate.
⬤ Legionella – Workplaces like hotels, leisure facilities, offices, dental clinics and hairdressers, need to put control measures in place to avoid Legionnaires’ disease.
8 Worker protocol
⬤Face masks: These are recommended in “crowded workplaces” or where it’s difficult to maintain two-metre social distancing, eg at photocopiers, in stairwells, or using the toaster.
The protocol says visors are not the best option for protecting yourself and others but are better than not wearing any face covering.
It says they should only be worn if you have an illness or impairment that makes wearing a face covering difficult or are dealing with people with particular needs, such as the hard of hearing.
⬤ Shaking hands. It’s not on. There should be a no handshaking policy.
⬤Pods – Workers should be organised in pods who work and take breaks together.
⬤ Pens – Use your own to sign in or out.
9 What if you have concerns?
Workers should raise concerns about breaches of the protocol with the lead worker but if they are not dealt with, you can contact the workplace contact unit of the Health and Safety Authority.