By Janet Kerrigan, Service & Development Director at Willis Insurance and Risk Management

Workplace health and safety is a burning issue, yet employers often fail to recognise its importance, and instead are distracted by those matters deemed to have an immediate impact on business operations.

The Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) recently published its annual report for 2017-2018, which outlined that total injuries recorded in workplaces across Northern Ireland during the period reached 1,898, a rise of 13 per cent on the previous year.

The number of major injuries reported meanwhile, increased by 27 per cent to 453.

The HSENI enforces various regulations and legal requirements that organisations must adhere to when it comes to workplace health and safety. Failure to follow these can result in employee claims, legal action, reputation damage and an adverse effect on a company’s bottom line, regardless of whether an incident occurs or not.

The attitude that an employee injury or fatality is only an issue as and when it happens, is a recipe for disaster. These events are almost always unexpected, but however unpredictable they are in nature, the risk of them occurring can be greatly minimised should those in managerial roles ensure there are appropriate measures and procedures in place.

Workplace harm covers anything from trips and falls, repetitive strain injury, cuts and lacerations, exposure to loud noise, inhaling toxic fumes and being hit by falling objects. The sheer scope of injuries is evidence that the importance of employee health and safety is not isolated to one specific industry and must be taken into consideration by all sectors.

The sectoral breakdown of the HSENI report, recorded that of overall reported workplace injuries, 28 per cent occurred within the manufacturing industry, 25 per cent in the public services sector, 20 per cent in the education sector, 9 per cent in the health sector and 4 per cent in the construction sector, with the remaining 14 per cent occurring within other industries.

Identifying areas that have the potential to injure staff is the most effective preventative measure. At a very simple level, employers can do this by walking round the organisation and noting down any hazards. An audit may also be conducted to devise an effective health and safety management system in accordance with best practice.

There is much for an organisation to consider to ensure it remains legally compliant. It may benefit therefore from the invaluable support and advice of a professional Health and Safety Consultant.

Seeking such expert guidance allows policies and procedures to be tailored to meet the individual needs and requirements of a business and ensures that employers do not neglect the health and safety of their employees by getting ‘tangled up’ in other seemingly more important business matters.