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Don't run out on health and safety procedures


Is the recession to blame for the rise in the number of work-related deaths?

IT’S SUPPOSED to be a straight-forward contract. You go to work when you’re scheduled to do so, do what you’re asked, and leave at the appointed hour – and in return you get paid a salary.

But for 55 people last year, what should have been a typical day at work turned into a nightmare for them and their families when they never made it home.

With the number of work-related deaths on the rise, is the recession to blame for falling safety standards? And how can these standards be improved in a cost-efficient manner?

This Friday marks the World Day for Health Safety at Work 2012, and is a timely reminder for both companies and employees alike that effective health and safety practices at work always makes good business sense.

However, there are signs that cash-strapped companies are cutting back in this area.

Timmy Hayes recruits for health and safety positions for Sigmar Recruitment in Cork, and he has noticed a decline in demand for professionals in this area.

“Overall, positions have dried up, particularly in the last three years,” he notes, adding that companies are looking to fill contract roles, of six to 12 months’ duration, rather than take on additional health and safety staff.

“They’re bringing people in for particular projects and giving them a commitment of six months or so, and they’re letting people go after that,” he adds.

Con Furey, a chartered safety and health practitioner, has also noticed companies cutting back. As he says, “budgets are cut because businesses are struggling to survive”. This is likely to be more evident in sectors like retail and hospitality, which have been particularly badly hit.

While some might argue that health and safety does not need a particular approach, Furey suggests otherwise.

“People think it’s common sense but that’s not that common – we wouldn’t have the statistics we have if that was the case.”

Indeed, figures from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) show there were 55 workplace deaths in 2011, compared with 48 in 2010, and up from the record low of 43 fatalities recorded in 2009.

Agriculture accounted for more than a third of all work-related deaths last year, followed by the transport and storage sector, and the construction sector.

In years gone by, construction would have accounted for the majority of workplace injuries but, as Patricia Byron, chief executive of the Injuries Board, says, this is no longer the case.

“The sector has retracted and we see it in the figures in terms of people at work, and particularly with regards to the heavy duty injuries. They are no longer there in the same volumes,” she says.

This could be seen to be one positive of the downturn and, as Byron notes, the overall volume of awards for workplace accidents processed by the Injuries Board, the independent State body that processes personal injury claims and awards compensation for motor, workplace and public place accidents, fell in 2011.

Last year, compensation awarded by the board totalled about €22.5 million, down by 10.4 per cent from €25.1 million in 2010, due to the decrease in claim numbers.

However, as Byron notes, this is because there are fewer people working, rather than due to an improvement in overall standards.

Similarly, the average claim processed by the Injuries Board has also fallen, down to just over €21,000 in 2011, from €24,900 in 2008. Again this is because the volume of more serious injuries has also declined.

Based on statistics from the Injuries Board, it appears that men, aged between 25-34, are most at risk. However, the number of women claiming last year jumped by 5 per cent in 2011, in part due to the higher numbers of women in employment due to the impact of the recession.

And if you want to stay safe, you might be wise to stay home on Thursdays – or even for all of November. According to claims processed by the Injuries Board, November is the most dangerous month for workplace accidents while April is deemed the safest.

With regards to days of the week, Thursday is the day when most accidents occur in the workplace, while Sunday, given the lower numbers at work, accounts for the fewest accidents.

The majority of claims were for the manufacturing and production sectors, and the most common accidents claimed for in 2011 are very consistent with historical trends.

“Slips, trips, falls, items falling on people, defective equipment and poor lifting and handling of goods,” says Byron, noting that simple safety measures people should be aware of include fastening and securing items that are stacked at a high level; safeguards should be kept on machines; and there are rules and guidelines for people to wear gloves or goggles.

“If these measures are taken seriously and rigorously applied, then you can really do a lot to reduce accidents,” she adds.

Byron has also noticed “pressure in terms of resources” in line with the recession, but she urges companies to maintain their focus at a time when people are cutting back on budgets and safety initiatives.

Efficient implementation of health and safety measures can not only reduce personal injuries, but also help the company’s bottom line, she suggests, by saving on expensive claims.

And for companies hoping to invest in their businesses to win Government tenders, upping health and safety standards can help in this regard.

Indeed Furey has also noticed a growing trend among smaller businesses doing so in order to tender for Government contracts.

“If you’re not compliant, don’t be expecting to be considered for a Government contract,” he warns, which is as good a reason as any to get your company’s procedures up to date.

Figures from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) show there were 55 workplace deaths in 2011, compared with 48 in 2010, and up from the record low of 43 fatalities recorded in 2009

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