GETTING IRELAND BACK TO WORK SAFELY

COVID-19 is having an enormous impact on businesses, business owners, and employees across the country. Business – in particular the SME sector – is a central component of community. The safe re-opening of our businesses is crucial to the wellbeing of our society and our people.

The gradual reopening began on 18 May with a Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. Even with a clear roadmap in place it must be stressed that the plan will be subject to constant review. In light of this, on 5 June the Government agreed to accelerate the roadmap. The reconfigured roadmap now consists of four phases. Phases 3-5 are currently being looked at with the intention of compressing them into two more phases rather than the three phases that were originally planned. More information will come shortly. The start dates for the five phases are:

You can view a list of public health measures in place right now here.

The reopening of the economy can only take place safely with strict adherence to workplace and occupational health and safety measures, alongside more general public health measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has published a Return to Work Safely Protocol. It is designed to support employers and workers to return to work safely following the COVID-19 closures.

The Protocol should be used by all workplaces to adapt their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the HSE. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take before a workplace reopens, and while it continues to operate.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) are charged with oversight and enforcement of these measures. The HSA has published checklists and templates to help employers, business owners and managers to get their business up and running again and to inform workers about what they need to do to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace. If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

Skillnet Ireland has launched a new initiative aimed at helping Irish SME owners and managers across all sectors prepare and implement a return to work safely plan for the reopening of their business. The initiative is known as ReBound – Back to Business Safely.

A high-level consultative stakeholder forum, under the aegis of the Labour Employer Economic Forum, will be established. This forum will include membership from the various bodies with responsibility for health and safety at work and for public health more generally. The forum will allow for ongoing engagement at national level on implementation issues in light of evolving public health advice and other factors.

The full apparatus of the State and its specialist agencies is being deployed in supporting our business community in a planned, coordinated, national and local endeavour. There is a menu of supports available from across the government enterprise agencies, with specific tailored supports for individual sectors to help businesses review and amend their business model as appropriate. Agency supports to help Irish business through the COVID-19 pandemic are listed here.

Details of a new €250m Restart Grant have also been agreed by Government. This will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures:

  • Direct grant aid of between €2,000 minimum and €10,000 based on commercial rates bill from 2019.
  • Scheme applies to small businesses with a turnover of under €5m and employing 50 people or less.
  • Scheme is open for applications through Local Authorities.