The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Amendment) Bill 2020, if enacted, will place a legal obligation on all employers to notify the Health and Safety Authority of any outbreaks of COVID-19 in their workplace.
The 2020 Bill would amend the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to classify COVID-19 as an "occupational illness" and require that any occurrences of COVID-19 amongst employees in the workplace are reported to the HSA. COVID-19 is not currently reportable under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No.3) Regulations 2016, and therefore employers are currently not under any obligation to report an outbreak of COVID-19 in their workplace.
If reported, the HSA may then elect to utilise their powers under the 2005 Act to carry out an inspection of the affected workplace. However, given the increasing numbers of confirmed cases in Ireland at present, it is likely that such an inspection would only occur where a cluster or particularly high number of cases is reported in a specific workplace.
COVID-19 is currently reportable under the Infectious Diseases (Amendment) Regulations 2020 by a medical practitioner who becomes aware or suspects an instance of such disease.
The 2020 Bill is currently at the Second Stage before Dáil Eireann and will subsequently move to the Committee Stage for further debate and amendment.
Employers should continue to have regard to the Irish Return to Work Safely Protocol which outlines precisely what is expected of employers. The Protocol includes rigorous obligations on employers in terms of health and safety and while not legally enforceable, the HSA will not look favourably on any failure to implement the requirements under the Protocol.