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Government advises on workplace vaccines and antigen tests

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The newly updated Return to Work Safely Protocol sets out requirements for employers as workplaces begin to reopen in the coming weeks.

The Government has updated the Return to Work Safely Protocol with new guidance on ventilation, vaccinations and antigen testing.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, launched the updates today (14 May). He said the official advice is to continue working from home where possible, but that it was necessary to provide “clear guidance” on keeping staff and customers safe as certain sectors prepare to reopen in the coming weeks.

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“We know much more about the virus now,” Varadkar said. “We now know the importance of ventilation, for example; of letting fresh air circulate in a room and how much safer outdoors is to indoors.”

The protocol, which was first published in May 2020, now includes instructions on using antigen testing in the workplace. Varadkar stressed that antigen tests should be used as “an additional health and safety measure” rather than a substitute for other precautions, such as “washing hands, keeping a distance, wearing a mask, staying at home and contacting your GP if you have symptoms”.

When it comes to vaccines, Varadkar said: “Vaccination is and will remain voluntary, so it’s important that employers have guidance on how to manage any unvaccinated workers. This document gives that information.”

Siliconrepublic.com previously spoke to William Fry’s head of employment and benefits, Catherine O’Flynn, about vaccine protocols in the workplace. At the time, she advised employers to approach their vaccination policies “with caution” and to consider implications around data protection.

The updated protocol, now called the Work Safely Protocol, requires employers to inform staff of “the benefits and drawbacks of both vaccination and non-vaccination”.

It says: “If a worker decides not to avail of the offer of a vaccination, the employer must review their risk assessment and decide whether the worker can carry out the work task without vaccination, and what other protective measures are needed.”

Other measures outlined in the new protocol require employers to keep their Covid-19 response plans up to date, continue to log contacts for contract tracing, review and revise sick-leave policies, provide training on proper hand hygiene, provide for physical distancing across all work activities, reduce business travel to the absolute minimum and more.

The Government said the updated protocol applies to all sectors and that workplaces can introduce further specific measures “as long as they enhance those set out in the protocol”.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) will continue to oversee compliance with the Work Safely Protocol. Since the original protocol was issued last May, the HSA and other State agencies have carried out more than 33,000 compliance inspections.

The full Work Safely Protocol is available here.

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