Proactive notification and surveillance of Covid-19 is “key to ensuring the responsible agencies react quickly”, especially in meat plants and care homes, according to TD Louise O’Reilly.

A Sinn Féin bill, which proposes an amendment to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to make workplace outbreaks of Covid-19 notifiable to the Heath and Safety Authority (HSA), was debated in the Dáil last week.

Deputy Louise O’Reilly, who introduced the bill, said its only purpose is to protect workers in their workplaces.

“Such proactive notification and surveillance of Covid-19 is key to ensuring the responsible agencies react quickly to prevent the development of clusters of the virus in workplaces, especially meat plants and care homes,” the deputy said.

Some people might be shocked to learn that workplace outbreaks of Covid-19 are not currently notifiable to the HSA as an occupational illness due to a lacuna in the 2005 act. We are outliers in Europe.

“We have only to look at the rise in the rates of infection among healthcare workers and meat and food processing workers the last time we eased restrictions to know that the failure to put the required protections in place will place workers at risk.

“There is a lot of talk at this time about remote working. That is an extremely important issue and very valuable conversations are being had about it.”

The deputy said that the bill intends to protect workers “who simply cannot work from home and must go into their workplace”.

“The workers who need protection are those in meat factories; food-processing plants; food supply chain operations; nursing homes; hospitals; day centres; shops; and building sites.”

The bill will now progress to the committee stage. The bill was first published in June.

Funding made available for research on preventing spread of Covid-19 in meat plants

Since December 1, funding has been made available to hire researchers to work with state agencies and meat plant operators on finding solutions to control and prevent the spread of Covid-19 in workplaces.

This is a result of a grant application made by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, senior University College Dublin (UCD) academics and other partners in Ireland, Northern Ireland and overseas to Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) seeking funding for further studies in reply to their latest Covid-19 rapid research call.

This research consortium includes the research group and meat processor involved in the investigation of a large outbreak in a German meat processing plant.