Employees at manufacturing firms – and other manual sectors – are absent from work for at least two additional days a year than non-manual workers, a seminar hosted by Willis Insurance and Risk Management has heard.

However, the leading Belfast broker said steps could be taken to establish robust health and safety systems, thereby improving staff well-being and improving businesses’ bottom line in the process.

Companies in the UK lost 137.3m days through sickness or injury last year, according to Government statistics, more than a quarter of which was attributed to back, neck of upper limb problems.

David Sinnamon, Willis IRM Risk Manager, said by focusing on real-life risks in the workplace, businesses can reduce bureaucracy and improve health and safety compliance.

Addressing an event organised in partnership with trade body Manufacturing NI, David said:

“The trend seems to be for the accumulation of safety documentation for the sake of having safety documentation, and the focus is always on protecting the organisation from outside bodies as opposed to a focus on what we need to do to keep employees safe.

“By changing the focus and concentrating on what we need to do to keep employees safe, we can actually reduce the complexity and the amount of paperwork in our safety systems, while making them more effective.”

The seminar took place in the Seagoe Hotel in Portadown.

Entitled ‘When Accidents Happen’, the free interactive session sought to advise manufacturers on managing risk, responding to absences when they do occur and dealing with the impact of any resultant claims.

The seminar was organised in the wake of several high-profile claims, including £900,000 Volvo UK was asked to pay to a repair technician injured in a stepladder fall.

Andrew Galway, Willis IRM Business Development Director, said efforts should be made following any accident to “record information accurately, correctly and immediately”.

He added:

“Once you have that information to hand, that will stand you in good stead in the long term for any claim.”

Jacqueline Shakspeare, Willis IRM Employment Law Consultant, said that when staff do have to take time off work following an accident, employers should work alongside them to ensure a smooth return to work.

She said:

“It may be necessary to write to the doctor or occupational health practitioner.

“You need to be very specific about their functions in the business, whether it’s fetching, lifting or driving and ultimately it’s about questioning what they can do with their condition and what they may not be able to do with their condition.”

Stephen Kelly, Manufacturing NI Chief Executive added:

“All too many firms create the health and safety system, create the risk management system, write it all up into a beautiful document, put it on a shelf and it is never visible again.

“You do the work with your staff and build it from the bottom up as that will alleviate any potential risks in the future, and make sure that you take care of your liabilities.”

Established almost four decades ago, Willis Insurance and Risk Management has expanded its services in recent years, making it the only Northern Ireland broker to offer HR, employment law, health and safety, claims handling and wealth management advice.