Case Study: Managing Non-Compliance with COVID-19 Safety Measures

Dr. Ronan Glynn, the Acting Chief Medical Officer, has expressed his concern at the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in workplace settings.

“We are now seeing outbreaks of the virus in a range of work settings, including in construction, in fast food outlets and in supermarkets.” 20/7/20.

The following case study* demonstrates how easily a single case can result in further positive and suspect cases and what can be done to manage this.

 

Background

A small technology company based in Dublin City Centre had started to phase employees back into the office from the start of Phase 3 of the Government Roadmap (29th June).

They have a comprehensive COVID Response Plan, Risk Assessments, and carried out induction a few days before individuals returned to the office. This covered everyone's obligations and responsibilities. Every employee had signed off on this training and had also completed a Return to Work form. There is a Lead Worker Representative (LWR) in place, but that person was not always on site and has limited ability to monitor in person.

 

Confirmed Case

On the week in question, the employee in question worked in the office from Monday to Thursday and from home on a Friday. On the following Sunday he was contacted by the HSE Contact Tracing Service to notify him that he had been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case. The employee called the employer on Monday morning to say he was not going to attend work and explained why. He was tested that day. He received a call from the HSE on Tuesday indicating a positive COVID-19 test and informed the employer. While no close contacts were recorded, it was reported that the employee in question and two of his colleagues were not practicing social distancing- keyboards had been shared, they were sitting too close together, and they were going out for coffee, lunch together etc. They appeared to have little regard for the information that had been provided in the training course or the safe systems of work that had been set up.

 

Close Contacts

The two employees were already aware that their colleague was a confirmed case and did not attend work on Wednesday. Both were tested. The results were returned on Thursday- one employee was positive, and the other was negative.

The employer reviewed their contact logs and once again no contacts had been recorded. A decision was made to inform all staff that there were two confirmed cases. Employees were reminded to monitor their symptoms and ensure that they consult with a medical professional if they had concerns.

 

Disciplinary

The disciplinary process was considered for lack of adherence to the safety measures that had been applied. When the Disciplinary Policy was reviewed, it was advised that it should have been more explicit from a Health and Safety perspective. In addition, neither the COVID-19 Response plan or training had referenced that the disciplinary process could be used if the measures were not followed. In the end it was decided not to invoke the process but to focus on making the changes to the existing policies to ensure that they were fit for purpose.

Some questions to consider for employers:

 

  • Has your company ensured that it is in compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol?
  • Would your employees know when not to attend the workplace and what to report?
  • Is there adequate supervision in the workplace?
  • What process is in place if employees fail to observe the physical distancing requirements?
  • What contact logging system do you have in place and can you rely on it if there is a suspect case?
  • When would you notify your staff if there was a suspect or confirmed case?
  • Is your Disciplinary process/policy fit for purpose? Does it need updating to cover breaches of health and safety in the workplace?
  • Have you informed your employees of the implications of not following the COVID-19 safety policies? Are they aware of the consequences whereby it may lead to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal?
  • Have you a review process in place to test the safety systems that have been implemented?

 

Conclusion

If three confirmed cases had been identified in this workplace, it would have been categorised as a workplace cluster. This would have required an inspection from the HSE (Public Health) and/or the HSA.

It could be determined that this was a low risk workplace as there was ample space to maintain social distancing, but it shows how individual employees’ behaviours can influence the outcome.

 

*The company in question have been consulted about being used as a case study. Some information has been changed to ensure anonymity.