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Deputy Cathal Crowe

HSA urged to inspect companies to assess social distancing compliance

PRESSURE is growing on the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to carry out unannounced inspections of some Clare companies, who have been accused of putting workers’ health at risk by not adhering to national social distancing guidelines.

Deputy Cathal Crowe has revealed that he has received about 24 complaints in recent weeks about workers in different companies who were not able to keep at least two metres apart in line with public health guidelines.

The Fianna Fáil Deputy confirmed he is still contacting managers in companies asking them to take appropriate action to address employees who opted to remain anonymous because they feared for their jobs and livelihoods.

Shannon Chamber chief executive, Helen Downes has expressed surprise about these complaints, as she said companies are employing all the necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of all employees is paramount during this crisis.

Deputy Crowe said companies have been responsive and pledged to take the concerns of employees on board.

“I have expressed concerns of workers to a number of bosses in the county. We can’t expect workers to be on top of each other and then go home to partners, spouses and parents and potentially carry the virus with them,” he said.

The Meelick Deputy also advised companies to introduce more shifts and other innovative measures to enhance public safety for workers.

He believes gardeners and landscapers who work in self-isolation every day should be allowed to continue working.

He called on the HSA to conduct unannounced inspections of companies in Shannon to ensure that all firms are adhering to the public health guidelines on social distancing.

Deputy Crowe is supported by Councillor Donna McGettigan, who confirmed that she has received a number of complaints from constituents claiming certain companies are not adhering to the strict Government guidelines of 2m between all employees in the workplace.

“I have had many calls, texts and private messages over the weekend about employees and essential work. If you feel that your employer is not putting in the relevant health and safety for you or you feel that their manufacturing is not essential, then contact the HSA and they can clarify for you,” she said.

Ms Downes stressed the chamber has no reason to believe that companies are not adhering to social distancing, as she has not received one complaint in relation to this issue and would be very disappointed to hear if this is the case in any instance.

Ms Downes said the chamber is conducting multiple telephone calls with companies collectively and individually on a daily basis, who are discussing the best way to implement social distancing in their companies since the start of the public health crisis. Information is also shared during weekly collective conference call communication with Shannon Chamber members on ways to implement best practice advocated by the HSE and the World Health Organisation.

Ms Downes said many companies have adjusted their shifts to avoid bottlenecks and have taken many additional initiatives, including having hand sanitising and tissues throughout premises, using monitors within their premises to get continual messages across, using disposal cutlery in canteens, removing chairs, staggering breaks, holding virtual meetings or holding meetings in large rooms to allow space for physical distancing.

“All companies who partake in our weekly call have stated that they are working within the constraints and will adopt any further measures that may be set in the weeks ahead. The health and safety of employees is of paramount importance to member companies, as they endeavour to keep their businesses operational.

“Never before have we seen so much collaboration locally, regionally and nationally on the crisis as we are all experiencing. Some companies, due to the nature of their operational environment, have had to introduce more rigorous measures to address physical distancing,” she said.

“We have heard no complaints or nothing to suggest that social distancing is not happening. In fact, companies are sharing best practices and how firms are even getting better at implementing measures than they were at the start of the crisis.

“Employers will not put employees at risk and can’t afford not to listen to their employees.

“This has been a key priority with every company we engaged with from the start. We have learned from some of the other European countries with how they managed to change over the evolution of this virus,” she said.

She encouraged employees to discuss any health and safety concerns with their line manager, relevant human resources manager or the chief executive, who she believes will be very receptive to addressing any issue.

The HSA stated an essential business should where possible meet the public health advice and social distancing guidelines.

Where this isn’t possible due to the nature of work, the authority said they should implement other measures such as staggering work rotas or checks to identify symptomatic staff.

It strongly advises all employers/employees to follow all HSE guidelines on preventing the spread of the virus and is working with Government departments to increase public awareness.

In addition to addressing occupational health and safety issues in the workplace, it noted an inspection may be deemed necessary on foot of a complaint.

Dan Danaher

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