ON FRONTLINE Coronavirus in Ireland – It’s not only healthcare workers risking health, shop workers are frontline heroes too

This article first appeared in The Irish Sun on 20 April 2020.

But is your employer currently doing enough to help protect you during these uncertain times? Sean Fitzgerald is a Solicitor at HOMS Assist ­specialising in personal injury with particular emphasis on industrial accidents and diseases.

Sean Fitzgerald is a Solicitor at HOMS Assist.  Here, he outlines how you can help yourself at this difficult period.

It is boom time for the grocery sector — who are struggling to meet increased demand.

Many of the larger chains have announced that staff will receive a ten per cent bonus for hours worked during the Covid-19 health crisis.


‘RISKING THEIR HEALTH’

However, this is cold ­comfort to those workers ­risking their health.

This is especially true when one considers that many of them would actually be earning more money if they were in receipt of the Government’s Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment.

Employers have a legal and a moral duty to protect their employees.

Grocery stores and pharmacies have recently become a lifeline for many — not just for key ­supplies but also for a break from the cabin fever caused by social distancing.


EXPOSED

At a time when the general public are largely confined to their homes to keep the highly ­contagious Covid-19 from spreading, cashiers, baggers, shelf stockers and security guards are exposed on a daily basis to a steady stream of customers — with varying degrees of protection.

The grocery sector does not have a good track record of protecting their employees.

Many stores do not pay sick leave. This is, of course, ­completely counterproductive in stopping the spread of the Coronavirus.

All employees are entitled to be in a safe and healthy place of work.

Where there is a high level of risk for infection, an employer must provide ­adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) — such as a face mask and gloves — in the workplace.


EMPLOYEE PROTECTION

There are increased ­obligations placed on an employer to protect an employee when there is a potential exposure to an infectious disease.

Section 43 of the Health Act 1947, requires employers to take appropriate or timely steps to prevent the spread of any infection.

Common sense measures that you should discuss with your employer, include:

  • Provision of gloves and face masks and training on how to wear, remove and dispose of them safely.
  • Redesigning the layout of workstations to ensure that the work activity maintains at a two-metre distance.
  • Making alcohol-based hand sanitising dispensers available in prominent places around the workstation.
  • Providing access to facilities where you can wash your hands with soap and water while maintaining social ­distancing.
  • Providing access to disinfecting products that you can clean your workstation with.
  • Providing access to a closed bin for hygienic disposal of used tissues, gloves and face masks.
  • Designating an area where employees can take breaks and meals while maintaining social distancing.

When all is said and done, an employee who contracts Covid-19 in the workplace can take little comfort from a ten per cent bonus.

Sadly, no expression seems more accurate for a grocery store worker now than “your health is your wealth”.

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