Fórsa has sought an urgent engagement with the education department over concerns that special needs assistants (SNAs) and school secretaries with underlying health conditions could be at unnecessary high risk once schools start to reopen later this week.
The union is concerned that standard occupational health advice, and new guidance issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) today (Monday), give insufficient protections against Covid-19 to classroom-based staff with underlying health problems including lung and respiratory conditions, heart disease, and some cancers.
The union’s head of education, Andy Pike, said these workers have been told they must work in classrooms without any social distancing, despite clear evidence that they are at high risk if they contract Covid-19.
“Staff are concerned that the occupational health advice doesn’t take account of individual health status and seems to allow people at high risk to work in situations without social distancing even if they have multiple underlying health conditions. We are seeking an alternative approach that is responsive to advice from GPs, rather than a blanket uniform approach which is insensitive to real health risks and fears,” he said.
Fórsa has today written to education minister Norma Foley to say that staff in the schools sector are most at risk, but are getting the least protection. The union has asked the minister to reconsider the policy to “afford a genuine clinical assessment to staff that takes account of their health status in accordance with published HSE advice.”
Mr Pike added: “SNAs can’t practise social distancing and do their job because they work so closely with the students they give personal care to. As things stand, this means they will be exposed to the highest level of risk. Classroom staff with underlying health conditions need more protection than those working in other settings.”