A Fianna Fáil TD has questioned the legality of a change to health and safety laws, which removed a requirement on employers to notify the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) about an infectious disease in their workplace.

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act of 2005 employers were required to inform the HSA of infectious diseases in the workplace as well as other illnesses or personal injury.

But this section of the law was changed by a ministerial regulation signed in 2016 to remove the requirement for infectious diseases to be notified. 

The loophole was being discussed at a meeting of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response where it was described by Patricia King of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions as a "major flaw".

Kildare North TD James Lawless told RTÉ News that questions must be answered around why the requirement to report infectious disease was removed: "Was it legal to remove it via ministerial order given it was put in place by primary legislation and a vote in the Dail?" he asked 

Mr Lawless - who is also a qualified barrister - said he believes that the change is "so fundamental as to be going beyond the powers permissible in regulation."

Earlier, Ms King told the committee that ICTU had tried to close the loophole through its representation on the board of the HSA but that "all efforts have been rejected".

She said it was "untenable" that the authority assigned in law to oversee that Covid-related protocols are being implemented in workplaces, and who have the powers to inspect workplaces, "are not even notified" when there are cases in a workplace.

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"All the indicators to me are that they do not want to be notified. They don't want this task," she said.

She told the committee that she had discussed this loophole in recent weeks with Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar who has promised to examine the issue.

Mr Lawless told the committee that: "If somebody trips on a floorboard or injures himself on a piece of machinery in a factory, that is notifiable to the Health and Safety Authority.

"If someone presents with coronavirus or another infectious disease, then it is not."

Sinn Féin published a Bill in June that sought to ensure that employers would have had to notify the authorities of a case of Covid-19 in a workplace. 

The party's TD, Louise O'Reilly, called on other parties to support this Bill "because I think there is general agreement that if you contract Covid in the workplace it is a workplace injury and it should be treated like a workplace injury." 

She said: "I don't know what all the ducking and diving on behalf of the Government is about.  

"Well that is not true, I suspect I do know what it is about but I am not prepared to go in to it right here."