The information and guidance detailed on this webpage has been prepared as a support for the Community & Voluntary Sector as they operate essential community services and facilities. However, it should be noted that there is a need for individuals and organisations to exercise personal responsibility and good judgement in their activities. This is especially important in the community and voluntary sector, given the varied nature of the activities being undertaken.
Pobal working with the Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) has prepared information and guidance on how to best prepare to operate safely based on the current recommendations of the Government of Ireland, the Health & Safety Authority (HSA), the Health Service Executive (HSE) and other representative bodies.
The community and voluntary sector has undertaken significant efforts to maintain essential services and support their communities and local members during the Coronavirus outbreak.
The information and resources available on this webpage will assist and support staff and volunteers with responsibility for formulating a detailed, bespoke plan for their organisation, community centre or facility.
It is highly recommended that organisations take the time to visit and review the information available on the following websites in the first instance:
- Government of Ireland
- Health Protection Surveillance Centre
- Health & Safety Authority
- Department of Business and Enterprise
- COVID Tracker Ireland – find information on the App here.
- Please also check here for the most up-to-date resources for COVID-19.
The Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
The Protocol should be used by all workplaces to adapt their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the HSE.
It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take before a workplace reopens, and while it continues to operate.
On 15 September, 2020, the Government announced the Living with COVID-19 five-level plan for the next six months. These measures aim to protect key priorities – protecting health, strengthening employment and supporting communities. You can view the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19 here.
On 30 December, 2020, it was announced by Government that the entire country would remain in level 5 restrictions until midnight on 31 January, 2021, and on 6 January, 2021, new Level 5 restrictions were announced.
On 23 February, 2021, it was announced by Government that Ireland would remain at Level 5 restrictions until 5 April, 2021, at the earliest with the exception of primary / secondary schools and early learning and care services. You can view the changes for childcare services.
On 30 March, 2021, changes, to take place from April, were confirmed by Government and on 29 April, 2021, new public health measures were announced. Further easing of restrictions for June were announced on 28 May.
On 31 August 2021, the Government outlined a plan for the lifting of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions over the coming weeks and you can find full details of these plans here.
You can read the Government’s document ‘Reframing the Challenge – Continuing our Recovery and Reconnecting’ here.
Moving forward the advice for safe operations is as follows:
- Follow the Plan for Living with COVID-19 as per Government advice.
- Ensure all staff have completed the Health Declaration as often as required
- Induction &Training – Ensure that people working in your facility have done the induction and Covid Symptom Awareness is evident
- Enhanced cleaning regimes should be in place
- Ensure compliance with the 2mtr Physical Distancing rule
- Wash and/or sanitise hands regularly and thoroughly throughout the day
- Responsible persons are appointed and are following the COVID-19 developments
- Limit the amount of people that work from your facility and only open your facility if you are compliant with the Plan for Living with COVID-19
- From September 2021, Government guidance is that you should only go to your workplace for limited reasons. More advice is expected on 22 October 2021.
Please note the information featured on this page is subject to change in line with Government and public health advice. The page is updated by Pobal on a regular basis.
Below, for reference, are the 8 steps to be followed to develop your COVID 19 Response Plan:
- Create and Review your COVID-19 Policy and have it signed by the most senior person. Ensure it contains the latest guidance
- Identify overall responsible person and persons for each location
- Planning and Preparation
- Develop location specific inductions and keep updated
- Implement COVID-19 spread prevention recommendations
- Identify staff and volunteers and advise who will come back to work and when
- Support individuals as they return to office or community based work / volunteering
- Consider long-term work from home staff supports
Step 1 – Write and Display your Policy
Every organisation will need to create a COVID-19 Policy that will outline their commitment to implementing the response plan and protocol to the national COVID-19 regulations. The policy must be signed and dated by the most senior person within the organisation / group and circulated to all staff and volunteers. In preparing the policy and putting COVID-19 control measures in place, the protocol outlines that employers should review their occupational health and safety risk assessments and take account of any changes to the work activity that may arise, following implementation of the public health recommendations
It is advisable that this document demonstrates how your organisation will undertake the following:
- Continue to monitor its COVID-19 response and amend this plan in consultation with staff and volunteers.
- Provide up to date information to staff and volunteers on the Public Health advice issued by the HSE and Gov.ie.
- Display information on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and correct hand-washing techniques.
- Provide an adequate number of trained worker/ volunteer representative(s) who are easily identifiable and put in place a reporting system.
- Inform all staff and volunteers of essential hygiene and respiratory etiquette and physical distancing requirements.
- Adapt the workplace accordingly to facilitate appropriate physical distancing.
- Keep a staff / volunteer log to help with contact tracing.
- Have all staff and volunteers undergo an induction / familiarisation briefing in advance of returning to the office or community setting.
- Develop a procedure to be followed in the event of an individual displaying symptoms of COVID-19 while at work or in the office / community based setting.
- Provide instructions for staff and volunteers to follow if they develop signs and symptoms of COVID-19 during work.
- Intensify cleaning in line with government advice.
Step 2 – Identification of COVID-19 Responsible Person(s)
It is highly recommended that one person is identified and appointed as the overall responsible person within your organisation. This person will have the overall responsibility within your organisation / group for ensuring your place of work and all associated community facilities are set up correctly and that all staff, volunteers and visitors are aware of the necessary requirements they must adhere to when at work or in a community based setting.
If you have more than one place of work / facility it is advisable that each community and voluntary organisation should identify and suitably train a person(s) to help with ensuring that the spread prevention plan is implemented and checklists are completed for each and every workplace/office/facility.
This individual will be the Local COVID-19 Representative in each specific place of work and this persons role is to work with management to get their place of work the required standard.
This person should be from the general body of staff or volunteers and be available and approachable to anyone that would use the facility/workplace
For employers, details regarding putting in place a worker representative is available here: HSA COVID-19 Response Plan – Worker Representative.
Task guidelines for the local COVID-19 Representative:
Tasks should include items such as:
- working through the COVID-19 checklists to identify issues
- regular check-ins with staff and volunteers to ensure the plan is being implemented
- Ensure regular workplace checks
- Be the point of contact to escalate issues
- Be the point of contact to deal with a potential case in the workplace
- Each office and/or community facility should ask staff to keep a log of people they come into contact with, adopt a tracking system for HSE contact tracing purposes if required.
- It is envisioned that the COVID-19 Responsible Person at each office location will take daily attendance lists and keep this information in a central and electronic format if possible.
Step 3 – Planning and Preparation
Each organisation is required to assess all of its locations and identify what actions are required at each location to ensure appropriate physical distancing and spread prevention protocols are in place.
While you must consider your whole workplace a detailed focus must be directed towards:
- Physical Distancing
- Hand Washing and Hygiene
- Respiratory Hygiene and etiquette
- Planning should consider current social distance guidelines and the ability to accommodate staff volunteers and other visitors at 2 metre distance in your work place or community based setting.
- The standard two metres physical distancing should be put in place and particular consideration given to areas where transactions take place or where equipment is shared or two metre spacing may be difficult. Corridors and walkways for example.
- Planning should also cover the identification of an isolation area at each work place / community facility for a person that may take unwell during the day, this is where someone may be taken to if they show signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
- Planning will also look at every need to ensure spread prevention compliance, from signage, cleaning, circulation and access/egress.
- Recommendations should be made for each location and each task at each location should be considered.
Other recommendations may include:
- Installation of signage and sanitising stations reminding staff to follow strict hand hygiene rules.
- A visible increase to cleaning processes in the workplace / community setting.
- Regular disinfection and cleaning of high traffic touch points.
- In quieter workplaces, the cleaning should be scheduled around occupancy.
- The implementation of a clean desk policy for all staff, with disinfectant wipes and cleaning materials provided for staff to clean down their desk space regularly.
- Ensure that only one person uses Printer Stations at a time. Users will need to adopt a “wipe in/wipe out” policy. Wipes should be provided.
- Set-up central disinfectant and cleaning material stations.
- Avoid sharing pens/pencils and other stationery. Wipe down staplers etc before use.
- If food is part of your offering then the standard HACCP rules remain in place and these should be augmented with further COVID-19 safety protocols. You can refer to the Food Safety Authority website for information here: Food Safety Authority advice around COVID-19
Signage should be installed to remind occupants of protocol. A section in the return to work induction should be included on this element as the primary source of transmission for COVID-19 is through aerosol and droplets in the air.
Installation of signage and sanitising stations reminding staff to follow strict hand hygiene rules. Good hand hygiene is proven to be effective at breaking the transmission chain
Staff should be given a demonstration on how to wash and sanitise hands properly. This demonstration should be recorded to ensure that everyone has been covered.
Here is the link to the available government signage: Government Signage Templates
Visitor & Movement Policy:
The following points should be considered in the context of a visitor and movement policy for your workplace or centre.
- It is recommended that individuals do not arrange for non-essential visitors to call to the workplace / community facility for any reason. This does not mean that clubs or groups, etc. cannot have any visitors for social or other reasons.
- It is recommended to limit staff / volunteers to one location per day and try to eliminate movement between workplaces and community facilities where possible.
- It is recommended to keep to one’s own workspace.
Consideration should be given to community spaces where rooms and facilities are shared between groups. The visitor and movement policy should include updated sign in procedures with requirements to complete additional questionnaires, spacing of activities, staggered start and finish times between activities, cleaning required between different groups using the spaces.
The following points should be considered in the context of a delivery policy for your workplace or centre.
- It is recommended that there be one person from each workplace to take deliveries that are absolutely required.
- Contactless delivery should be requested from all suppliers as a starting point.
- It is recommended that couriers are not allowed in to your space and are to be met outside. Staff should be asked to reduce or eliminate the need for deliveries.
- It is recommended that no personal deliveries will be allowed to the offices or community facility.
Physical Distancing Policy:
The following points should be considered in the context of a delivery policy for your workplace or centre.
- Signage should be installed to encourage one-way circulation where possible in each work place / community facility.
- Meeting rooms should be closed except for large boardrooms which will have limited capacity.
- Workshops should be assessed and limits set.
- Canteens should be limited. Reduce seating and make specific recommendations for each canteen after you assess the size and how many people it can hold while adhering to 2 metres.
- No food prep should be allowed in the canteens with the exceptions of a toaster and sandwich toaster.
- Staff and volunteers are recommended to bring in and use their own cutlery and/or cups and mugs and that nothing is left in the canteen.
- Only one person at a time should be allowed wait in common areas of WCs and Urinal areas for men.
- Only one person should be allowed take an elevator at any one time. Stairwells should be used and social distancing maintained while in use.
Step 4 – Write Location Inductions
As each workplace and community facility will have different dynamics and characteristics it will be necessary to create and deliver a COVID-19 site safety induction for each location.
It is advisable that all inductions are completed by staff and volunteers before they return to the workplace or community based setting.
If you have space in leased accommodation, then inductions should also include Landlord Plans regarding shared or communal spaces.
Staff / Volunteer Inductions will be a type of training course providing information for staff and volunteers on the below topics:
- Staff and volunteers need to be informed about, and accept the changes in the workplace and updated on new ways of working.
- A significant element of this return to the workplace protocol does involve all members of an organisation taking responsibility and ownership for ensuring they make themselves aware of the procedures that are put in place and the information provided.
- Return to Work Form– this is a triage questionnaire that will detail a person’s level of risk when it comes to spreading or catching COVID-19.*
- Staff and volunteers are required to complete this form three days prior to returning to the service.
- Community services may also wish to consider developing a form for individuals using shared rooms or spaces as they sign in
- Introduction to local COVID-19 representative and overall Responsible Person.
- Agreement to abide by the rules and encourage compliance.
- Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 (at home and in the workplace)
- Information on how the virus is spread
- Control measures that have been put in place to help prevent infection
- COVID-19 contact log requirement – log of staff/ volunteers and other contacts while in the workplace or centre.
- Changes to risk assessments and safety statement – if your interaction is with the Public or with equipment what changes are you making?
- Changes to emergency plans and first aid procedures.
- Changes to any HR policies.
- Minimising contact with others.
- Reporting procedures – how will you escalate an issue – who will you call – where is the responsibility?
- Dealing with a case – what to do if someone takes unwell and how to report same.
Step 5 – Implement COVID-19 Spread Prevention Recommendations
It is worthwhile allowing additional time to prepare a bespoke set of recommendations to comply with physical distancing and spread prevention guidance.
Remember to focus on hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, physical distancing.
As an example you could install signage to detail the following:
- Hand Hygiene
- Respiratory Hygiene
- Physical Distancing
- General COVID-19 Information
- Max Room Capacity Information
- Walkways where required
- Procedures to sign in and out of buildings
- Bathrooms capacity where required
- Canteen Capacity
- Close off areas as required
- Install sanitising stations if required
- Remove any items from reach as required
- Install Screens
Step 6 – Identify who will come back and when
It is recommended that the overall Responsible Person in consultation with staff and volunteers carry out this step.
- Identify the names of all individuals that will be coming back to provide supports in your centre and workplace.
- Pick a date for this return and clearly communicate with all staff and volunteers on expectations and supports that will be available
- The return date is at all times based on the Reopening of Society Roadmap by Government
- There will be a requirement to schedule people coming back into your centre consistently and in line with public health recommendations.
- The guidelines currently suggest between 20% and 40% occupancy at any one time initially so you must take a view of your workplace and settle on a number. (For example if your workplace is normally 10 people you may only allow 4 people at any one time instead).
- If your facility is big enough to ensure at least 2 metres between people during routine work then you may bring everyone back however it is recommended that you keep up to date with the guidelines and continue to allow staff and volunteers to work from home where possible.
- Aim to group staff and volunteers in order of priority when you are considering who needs to come back to the office and these groups will then be ultimately be signposted for return first.
- Remain aware of staff and volunteers concerns re their own individual risk factors e.g. underlying medical conditions, older workers and issues such as childcare / eldercare / public transport which will need to be factored in.
- The return of staff and volunteers to the workplace should be on a phased and/or roster basis and may involve changing work patterns e.g. different days / hours etc.
While the above points are relevant in the context of workers and volunteers, centres and facilities should also consider the above points when deciding on when visitors, members, etc. return to the centre or facility.
Step 7 – Support individuals as they return to office work
Ensure that appropriate supports are available to ease the transition of staff and volunteers back to workplace locations. This might include physical help to transport items back to the workplace or individual assessment for each person and their specific circumstances. Return to workplace inductions should be prepared and all staff should be re-inducted.
Step 8 – Longer Term WFH Staff
Due to the limitations regarding work place occupancy at any one time, organisations may have a number of staff and volunteers working from home longer term.
When appropriate, look to carry out the following:
Domestic risk assessment where you will assess the person’s home set up:
- Working Smoke Detectors
- Advice on smoking
- Connectivity (to internet)
- Hardware – PC/Laptop/screen etc
Ergonomics and home set up to be assessed and advice where required:
- Desk set up
- Separate work space
- Ask about any chronic back problems
It should be noted that some staff might have a home set up that may be inadequate.This should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and supports given to improve the situation where required.
*This COVID-19 Response Plan is a live document that sets out the parameters by which organisations can plan for the return to work of staff and volunteers. At all times the dates and plans will be subject to public health advice issued by Government.
*Community and Voluntary sector organisations should comply with GDPR at all times.
This page was last updated on 15/09/2021
Useful Links and Resources
- Guidance on Using Face Masks
- HSE Approved Guidance for Disability Services
- Health & Safety Authority Checklists
- Signage and Posters
- Government Resources
- COVID-19 Induction for Youth Services
- NSAI Guidance
- Men’s Sheds – Reopening guidelines
- Volunteer Ireland – COVID-19 resources for organisations and volunteers
- Water Safety Ireland – Return to Water Safely
- The role of ventilation in reducing transmission of COVID-19