With the recent announcement that workers in an Irish meat factory have been diagnosed with Covid-19, questions have been raised as to the potential liability of employers to workers who become infected with Covid-19 during the course of their employment.
Statutory And Common Law Duties Of Care
Irish employers under the Health and Safety at Work Acts, and under the rules of common law, must take reasonable care for the safety of their employees during the course of their employment. That includes the following:-
• Exercising reasonable care to protect employees against infection and injury
• Providing a safe place of work
• Having regard to the risks of Covid-19 infection in the workplace
• Protecting employees against the risk of transmission of Covid-19
• Not allowing employees to come into contact with other staff members who are suffering from the Covid-19 infection
• Screening and monitoring staff and visitors to places of work for Covid-19 infection
• Adopting measures to protect staff against the risk of Covid-19 infection
• Providing protective masks and other PPE to employees
• Managing and conducting their work activities in compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005
• Providing systems of work that are planned, organised, performed and maintained to be safe and without risk to employees’ health in compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 obliges employers to take numerous steps to protect employees against the risk of infection and this also includes providing health surveillance to anticipate the outbreak of Covid-19 on their premises.
There are also provisions under the Factories Act 1995, the Safety in Industry Acts and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 and 2005. Employees have the right to sue for damages by claiming negligence, breach of duty and breach of contract if they acquire Covid-19 negligently in the course of their employment.
There are many different health and safety acts in Ireland which place very strong duties of care on employers to employees that the Government should introduce a grant-aided scheme to help employers provide risk assessments against the spread of Covid-19 in their workplaces. The government should also provide funding to employers for PPE and other necessary protective measures that will be needed to protect employees from Covid-19 infection.