Schools urged to provide FFP2 masks for SNAs

Fórsa has today (Monday) written to all school principals and boards of management, urging them to take immediate steps to ensure adequate ventilation and air quality in classrooms and to provide special needs assistants with FFP2-grade face masks. The union also called on school management to ensure that legal minimum workplace temperatures of at least 16 degrees Celsius are maintained as schools implement Covid–related ventilation measures.

The Fórsa letter argues that school management should supply SNAs with FFP2 masks because they work with students in circumstances where social distancing is impossible. It pointed out that the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), which issues information and guidance on workplace Covid protection measures, is to review its existing advice on the provision of FFP2 masks to SNAs.

Current advice does not include such a requirement, even though the Chief Medical Officer wrote to the health minister last week saying that that FFP2 masks are effective, and that individuals may prefer to use this grade of mask.

Fórsa said it accepted that windows may need to be left open to achieve compliance with Covid-related air quality and ventilation requirements but principals and management boards must ensure an acceptable temperature in the workplace.

In an update to its 14,000 SNA members today, Fórsa said it accepted the reality that windows may have to be left open to achieve compliance with Covid-related air quality and ventilation requirements. But it said principals and management boards had a responsibility to take all possible measures to maintain an acceptable temperature of at least 16 Degree Celsius, including the provision of portable heaters where necessary.

The union has also raised the issues with the Department of Education, which it says has not implemented adequate measures to support schools during the current phase of the pandemic.

In the absence of adequate guidance from education department, Fórsa reminded principals and management boards of their obligation to liaise with the lead worker safety representative in each school. It has insisted that steps be taken in every school to update Covid-19 response plans with fresh assessments of risk regarding air quality, ventilation measures and compliance with minimum workplace temperatures.

Fórsa says the 72 hour obligation can be performed remotely without any adverse impact on students.

Fórsa’s Education Division Executive has also directed its special needs assistant (SNA) members not to carry out work associated with a ‘72-hour obligation’ on school premises. The union says SNAs should remain available to carry out such work on a remote basis where the need arises.

The ‘72-hour obligation,’ which was introduced in 2011, requires all SNAs to be available to do 72 hours of non-student-related work each year. Fórsa says this can be performed remotely without any adverse impact on students, and that current public health guidance insist that staff should work at home if at all possible.

The education department and school management bodies have been informed of this directive, which the union says will remain in place until there is an easing of the current official public health advice to work remotely wherever possible.

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