The BT Blog #5


Guest Blog: Covid Compliance measures

by Michael Kavanagh, CEO of the Association of Compliance Officers of Ireland (ACOI)

While many businesses throughout the country have returned to work in one guise or another, the sticky issue of compliance is taking center stage in the challenge to keep them open, as well as to re-start those businesses, institutions, and organisations that have yet to open in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

Pre-Covid-19, corporate compliance might have been seen by many as simply ‘ticking a box’ and as a purely bureaucratic exercise. However, the Covid crisis has highlighted just how important compliance is and how it underpins the very functioning of an organisation – whether that is on a building site, in a large office space, a manufacturing plant, shop, school or cinema. Going forward, every business, place of work or service provider going forward will need to have a Compliance Officer  – a dedicated, go-to staff member who ensures that any necessary processes and procedures are put in place, and with whom relevant stakeholders or authorities can interact and support in times of need.

In the context of the ongoing public health crisis, the need for and value of dedicated Covid compliance officers has become clear, if businesses are to maintain confidence that they can offer staff, clients and customers a safe working environment. To assist with the safe return to work as per the staged public health framework, the Government published the ‘Return to Work Safely Protocol’ in June – designed to assist employers in implementing measures to protect their employees and halt the spread of Covid-19. The protocol will be regularly updated and should be used by all employers to adapt their workplace procedures and practices to comply with the necessary public health protection measures as identified by the HSE.

 ACOI qualified compliance officers are used to dealing with regulations and implementing plans to ensure adherence to them. So, while this particular situation presents different challenges, the input in terms of the skills necessary to achieve compliance is similar.

The compliance function within an organisation will look different depending on the size and nature of it. However all organisations will need to consider the following areas in coordinating their compliance with the Return to Work protocol over the coming months:

  • Develop a Covid Response Plan: All workplaces, whether customer-facing or not, need to develop a plan for the safe operation of their workspace. The Health and Safety Authority has a downloadable brief which details the policies and practices necessary for employers to meet the Government’s ‘Return to Work Safely Protocol’ and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. They also have a comprehensive range of checklists for both employers and employees which will help you ensure you are covering all the key areas and questions which need to be considered and provided for.
  • Develop new policies and procedures: These will be needed in order to deal with a new array of possibilities within the workplace, chief among them being the identification and isolation of workers who show symptoms of Covid-19. Policies around sick leave, and worker flexibility will also need to be revised.
  • Protection and Control Measures to Minimize Risk: These can include

– A form to establish whether workers have any symptoms before returning to work.

– Provision of induction and training on the public health guidelines

– Implementation of temperature testing

  • Hygiene Control: Review and implement strict personal and operational hygiene procedures in order to minimise cross contamination and ensure adherence to current public safety guidelines regarding face coverings, cough etiquette etc.
  • Social Distancing Measures: Employers must provide for physical distancing across all work activities and ensure that workers can operate according to the current physical distance measure of 2 metres.
  • Travel and Business Interactions: Employers must introduce guidelines for any essential work-related trips, and for any necessary face-to-face interaction with clients or contractors.

These measures, while extensive in scope, are definitely there to help and assist. Feedback from some of our 3,000 members is reassuring in that the vast majority of businesses do want to be compliant, though many are having to contend with the financial and logistical implications of doing so. There are a huge number of compliance training courses and instruction out there for all sectors of employment. For the few who do not adhere to the rules, the HSA do have powers to police these measures. However, it is clear that helping businesses to comply is the overall aim. I believe that a collaborative and unified approach can be taken by all organisations around the country to try overcome the huge challenges presented by Covid-19, and keep our national and regional economies up and running in as safe a way as we can.

Michael Kavanagh, CEO of the ACOI. (Picture: Sebastian Rutkowski)