Posted on Tuesday 26 February 2019 by Ulster Business

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There were almost 1,900 reportable injuries in workplaces across Northern Ireland last year. Chris Ritchie, a litigation and dispute resolution partner at leading law firm Arthur Cox, discusses how employers should prepare to deal with accidents and their consequences

In its recently published annual report, the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) outlined the extent of accidents in workplaces throughout 2017-2018.

Over the 12-month period to March 31, 2018, there was a total of 1,898 reportable injuries across all sectors. It was encouraging to note, however, that the number of fatalities had reduced by almost a third on the previous year.

No single sector dominated, although the manufacturing industry recorded the most injuries representing 28% of the total number, followed by public services (25%), and the education sector (20%).

The overall number of reportable injuries was lower than three of the previous four years, a positive indication that employers are continuing to take seriously their responsibilities to follow health and safety guidelines in the workplace.

The report also outlined the level of fines administered over the period, which reached £173,750 following the successful completion of seven prosecutions brought by HSENI.

Taking an aggregate look across the five years from 2013-14 to 2017-18, the body has been effective in 53 prosecutions, leading to fines totalling just under £1m.

It is therefore clear that for those employers that do not adhere to regulations the penalties can be considerable. However, these will not always be purely financial – in some cases, imprisonment may be ordered for individuals who contravene the law. Recent legislation and case law in relation to corporate manslaughter has also enhanced focus in this area.
Consequently, it is more important than ever for employers to ensure their organisation has a robust system in place to respond to accidents when they do occur. It is also imperative that such a system, as well as the corresponding HR procedures, are kept fully up to date.

Health and safety compliance touches all employers and workplaces, with some facing greater risks than others, such as food manufacturing, industrial engineering, retail and leisure, energy companies and commercial landlords.

Seeking sound professional advice that is commercial and pragmatic, in relation to health and safety compliance, will assist with the process of ensuring full adherence. This should include policy reviews and drafting and legal enforcement audits to help employers test their safety management system and safety culture.  

Over many years, Arthur Cox has advised companies and individuals in relation to health and safety investigations, large and small, involving HSENI, local authorities, and the police. Accidents do happen but, with sufficient levels of planning, employers can be confident that penalties for non-compliance should not form part of the aftermath.

The health and safety team at Arthur Cox is well positioned to advise on how to ensure you are fully compliant with workplace health and safety law. Please call 028 9023 0007 for further information from Chris or your regular Arthur Cox contact.

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