Staff at Ryanair who were tested for Covid-19 have raised concerns over the manner in which an outbreak of the virus at the airline’s headquarters was handled.
Internal communications obtained by the PA news agency informed staff of an outbreak in the office at Airside Business Park in Swords, North Dublin on December 9.
The HSE intervened and initiated mass testing at the office.
At least one staff member who was being tested was instructed by a line manager to tell the HSE they had no close contacts in the office in the event of a positive result.
They were advised that names of individuals could not be provided to the HSE “due to GDPR purposes”.
The employee was told to advise the HSE they had no close contacts in the office based on “all procedures being followed”.
If the HSE persisted with questions, the employee was directed to refer them to a senior member of staff at the airline.
The revelations come just a week after Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary accused public health chiefs in Ireland of causing “mass hysteria”.
Prior to the HSE’s involvement, the company was operating its own testing regime for staff.
One employee said they believed the HSE became involved after noticing a high number of employees presenting with symptoms.
The PA news agency has been told that a number of staff in the operations room at Ryanair HQ were particularly concerned about safety procedures in place in the building.
A staff member said: “That room in particular, it’s like a meeting room. It’s big, but there’s no ventilation, the doors are always closed.
“Even the winter before Covid, one person in the room got sick and we all got sick. The ventilation in the room is shocking.”
They said colleagues had been “freaked out” by the number of positive cases.
A staff memo sent in mid-December advised staff that “the majority of people in the Ops area” had tested negative.
But sources believe the extent of the number of cases was played down to workers in the building, based on the length of time testing continued.
Staff were first notified of an outbreak on December 9, internal communications obtained by the PA News Agency show.
It said the outbreak had been confined to a single room and that all HSE advice was followed, including a deep clean of the office, and testing of staff was arranged for the following day.
Staff were informed of a “small number” of additional cases in a memo sent on December 16.
On January 28, a memo informed staff there had been no positive case for over a week.
The revelations come just a week after Ryanair boss Micheal O’Leary launched an attack public health chiefs, accusing them of causing “mass hysteria” over the coronavirus.
In an interview with RTE last Monday, Mr O’Leary insisted his airline would bounce back by June, encouraging people to resume international travel.
He said: “Nphet and the chief medical officer, if he was doing his job properly, should be holding press conferences announcing the number of people who have been vaccinated.
“Not issuing scare stories about numbers of people in hospitals.”
He added: “We need to get away from the mass hysteria created by Nphet.”
A Ryanair spokesperson said the airline does not comment “on rumour or speculation”.
They added: “Ryanair operates an essential service, and has at all times complied with HSE Health and Safety guidelines in the workplace.”
A spokesperson for the HSE said: “The HSE does not comment on individual cases or outbreaks as to do so would breach our duty of confidentiality to the individuals or businesses concerned.”
However, they said where there are cases identified at a workplace, the local public health team “discuss this with the case, asks them about their contacts and also discuss the issue with the facility.”
The spokesperson added: “Initially, if there are only one or two cases, only the cases and their contacts are tested and advised to stay off work and to isolate.
“However, depending on the local circumstances –environment, work practices, travel arrangements, accommodation and social practices – different approaches will be taken on whether to test all staff, some staff considered at slightly higher risk, none immediately, or to wait for the first set of contact results.
“Likewise, whether to close or keep open the facility will be dependent on all the above factors. This approach is used in a wide range of settings.”