Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Chris Mee Group consultants have continued to assist our clients to ensure that their workplaces remain as safe as possible for their staff and the public.
There is certainly some confusion around how best to practically implement the government guidance outlined in the ‘Return to Work Safely Protocol’. This article answers some of the most Frequently Asked Questions that we have received.
The Return to Work Safely Protocol states that: “Employers must… implement temperature testing in line with Public Health advice.”
The HSE currently does not recommend temperature testing in the workplace, with the exception of certain healthcare settings such as residential care homes. The reasons for this were outlined by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan in March of this year and include that:
Therefore, until a further update is issued by the HSE, the current position is that temperature screening is not part of the public health advice in Ireland at this time. This does not prevent employers putting such screening in place, particularly if it is made available on a voluntary basis, however the absence of a public health recommendation may make harder to implement on a mandatory basis.
And as pointed out by employment lawyers Byrne Wallace, if temperature testing is implemented, it is important for employers to properly consider data protection. Body temperature is personal data concerning health and is therefore “special category” data under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Up until very recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs stated that “In accordance with Government policy, which is based on official public health advice, [we] advise against non-essential travel overseas. This includes Great Britain but does not apply to Northern Ireland. It also includes all travel by cruise ship.” This advice applies equally to personal travel and work-related travel. In the event of essential travel, individuals returning to Ireland have been required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return – meaning that employees could not return to the workplace for this period.
The advice has become more complicated by the publication on 21st July 2020 of a ‘Green List’ of number of countries. The advice for travel to the countries on this list is now that non-essential travel can resume and that individuals arriving in Ireland from these locations will not be required to restrict their movements on arrival.
However, in the interests of clarity and continuing public health, we would still advise that employers ask their employees to avoid overseas travel unless absolutely necessary. International travel to undertake work that cannot be carried out remotely is likely to be classed as essential travel; unfortunately, a family holiday to a sunny country is not.
Luckily, the Return to Work Safely Protocol has a clear statement about the use of Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems in work places:
“Air conditioning is not generally considered as contributing significantly to the spread of COVID-19. Switching off air conditioning is not required to manage the risk of COVID-19. For organisations without air conditioning adequate ventilation is encouraged, for example, by opening windows where feasible etc.”
The rationale behind this statement is that current evidence suggests that the coronavirus which causes COVID-19 is spread in droplets. Droplets are generally heavy enough that they quickly fall out of the air, and so air conditioning systems are highly unlikely to cause further spread.
However, we have also been asked about the use of desk fans in workplaces, especially over the summer months where air conditioning is not available. We would advice employers to avoid the use of desk fans in most cases, as these are usually located within close proximity to where employees could cough/sneeze, and therefore could help to spread droplets around the workplace.
Dear customers, suppliers and friends,
Thank you for visiting the Chris Mee Group website at this time. As the COVID-19 situation continues, we want to reassure all our clients and suppliers that the Chris Mee Group remains operational and ready to service all our client needs nationally and internationally.