BLOG: Promoting workplace health and safety in Micro Businesses in Ireland during Covid-19

Promoting workplace health and safety in Micro Businesses in Ireland during Covid-19
Claire Gilbourne, Public Health Advisor with Corribview Safety Services Ltd. outlines information on a workplace programme to promote workplace health and safety in Microbusinesses in Ireland.

As identified SARS-CoV-2 is a group 3 biological agent, defined as “one that can cause severe human disease and presents a serious hazard to employees and which may present a risk of spreading to the community, though there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available” (Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2020). The virus can spread rapidly via droplet transmission and also via direct and indirect transmission routes which presents a significant health risk in the workplace.

Micro business’ in Ireland employ over 411,892 staff across the tourism, construction, retail, hospitality, warehouse, transport and manufacturing sectors and are all at increased risk as the virus transmits so easily between people. In order to ensure an effective release from lockdown for these businesses, to prevent further economic loss and ill health to staff and the wider community, it’s extremely important that the risk level associated with Covid-19 is clearly understood and appropriate infection, prevention and control measures to control the spread of the virus are implemented in these businesses. A detailed proactive response within businesses in relation to Covid-19, specifically focussing on proven and scientific methods of controlling the transmission of the disease in businesses is required. This will ultimately lead to increased health and well-being among employees and the wider community (Jahangiri et al. 2020). Interventions aimed at implementing public health guidance provide businesses with a unique opportunity to combine occupational health and safety and public health together to protect employees (Addley 1999).

An intervention based on a framework for Total Worker Health developed by the Centre for Work, Health and Well-being at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, which is one of six Total Worker Health Centres of Excellence funded by NIOSH (Dennerlein et al. 2020) has been designed by public health staff in Corribview Safety Services Ltd. to assist Microbusinesses in implementing this guidance. A Logic Model was developed as part of the design process for this intervention and this allows the Health Protection Framework to show the links between the activities of the programme and the planned outcomes (Logic Models n.d).

The core components of the intervention outlined above were identified based on a systems approach and recognising that a number of factors can impact on workers safety, health and welfare in the workplace (Dennerlein et al. 2020) . A conceptual framework consistent with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Total Worker Health (TWH) programme was used to develop an effective integrated approach. Six key characteristics identified as best practice for protecting and promoting workers health and safety were adapted for this intervention. These include commitment and leadership from the employer and/or manager, developing policies, programmes and procedures to support better working conditions, participation by all personnel, comprehensive and collaborative strategies to ensure all employees work together in risk reduction measures, adherence to relevant national legislation ensuring data collected is driving change and improvements in the organisation (Dennerlein et al. 2020). The activities within this programme have been developed to ensure they are successful in delivering outcomes.

Significant behavioural change is required by employees in order to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and interrupt the biological cycle of the disease. Individual behaviours have a crucial role to play in in this although little training, advice or guidance is given to personnel, even though failure to follow simple steps may have a detrimental role to play in the spread of the virus (West et al. 2020). Part of the application of this framework will apply behavioural interventions through education and adapting the physical and social environment in which individuals work to improve adherence to three behavioural topics including handwashing, face touching and self-isolation using the Behavioural Change Wheel. Evidence is available that effective behavioural interventions can significantly increase positive outcomes in these areas (Lunn et al. 2020).

Workplaces directly influence the physical, mental, economic and social wellbeing of workers and in turn, the health of their families, communities and society. With more than two million people employed in Ireland and close to 500,000 employed in Microbusinesses in Ireland, the workplace offers an ideal setting and infrastructure to support the promotion of health to a large audience. Corribview Safety Services Ltd. has developed a programme which you may find useful. Link to programme here https://corribviewsafety.ie/covid-19/c19-workplace-safety-programme/.

For information on recommended national guidelines time click visit https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus/

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References

Addley, K. (1999) ‘Developing programmes to achieve a healthy society: Creating healthy workplaces in Northern Ireland’, 49(5), 325–330.

Dennerlein, J.T., Burke, L., Sabbath, E.L., Williams, J.A.R., Peters, S.E., Wallace, L., Karapanos, M., Sorensen, G. (2020) ‘An Integrative Total Worker Health Framework for Keeping Workers Safe and Healthy During the COVID-19 Pandemic’, Human factors, 62(5), 689–696.

Ireland, Department of Business, Enterprise, Innovation (2020) Return to Work Safely Protocol, available: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/22829a-return-to-work-safely-protocol/ [accessed 27 October 2020]

Jahangiri, M., Cousins, R., Gharibi, V. (2020) ‘Lets get back to work: Preventative biological cycle management of COVID-19 in the Workplace’, 66, 713–716.

Logic Models (n.d) University of Wisconsin-Madison, available: https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/programdevelopment/logic-models/ [accessed 28 October 2020]

Lunn, P.D., Belton, C.A., Lavin, C., McGowan, F.P., Timmons, S., Robertson, D. (2020) ‘Using behavioural science to help fight the Coronavirus: A rapid, narrative review’, 3(1), 1–15.

Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013 S.I. No. 572 of 2013, Dublin: available: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2013/si/572 [accessed 27 October 2020]

SME Facts and FAQs (n.d) Irish SME Association, available: https://isme.ie/advice/sme-facts-and-faqs/ [accessed 21 Oct 2020]

West, R., Michie, S., Rubin, G.J., Amlot, R. (2020) ‘Applying principles of behaviour change to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission’, 4, 451–459.

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