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HSENI complaints rise by 1800% in week with lack of social distancing in workplaces major concern

'I would also warn businesses that we take our obligations very seriously and will act to address unsafe working conditions where this is needed'

Workers employees

Complaints to the Health and Safety Executive in Northern Ireland rose by a staggering 1800 per cent in a week during the COVID-19 crisis.

And it has warned employers that it will work to target unsafe working conditions at this time.

A triage system has been introduced to help the HSENI teams identify to whom they should be directed.

The chief executive today assured workers, businesses and the wider public that all complaints and queries received in relation to the COVID-19 crisis will continue to be dealt with in the proper manner.

The incredible increase in complaints mainly centred on concerns focused on the issue of social distancing in the workplace.

Chief Executive Robert Kidd said: “The HSENI has had to adapt quickly in the face of a crisis in order to maintain its service. I want to assure workers, employers and the public that, despite the enormous increase in work and the intense scrutiny that has gone along with that, my team will address every single complaint.

“We have introduced new methods of working in order to cope with hugely increased volumes of queries both via telephone and email. This includes staff being able to deal with social distancing queries remotely.

“As chief executive I want to thank the HSENI team for continuing to deliver. We will continue to respond to queries as promptly as we can. Safety has always been, and remains, our top priority.”

Between March 23 and April 1, HSENI received and processed 493 complaints.

During the same period last year it dealt with 25 complaints.

HSENI has provided advice and support to businesses and also obtained information on the social distancing measures being taken. The vast majority of these complaints have now been closed and we are working hard to close those that are outstanding.

Examples of measures introduced by companies in Northern Ireland to comply with the social distancing guidance include extending production lines, staggered break times, canteen tables being restricted to one per person, increased cleaning, and physical measures such as Perspex panels to minimise contact.

Mr Kidd said: “HSENI has achieved a great deal in such a short time.

“We have implemented a triage process which has enabled us to direct queries to the appropriate person. We have used existing knowledge of industrial sites and inspectors have been able to talk through risk assessments as well as offer help and advice on the application of the PHA’s COVID-19 guidance.

“We are already hearing a great deal of positive feedback from staff who have reported that significant changes have taken place throughout their workplace.

“I want to thank everyone who has worked collaboratively to assist us ensuring that staff who need to be in work can do so safely. No one wants to see any employee exposed to danger.

“Companies and employees have embraced the legal obligation upon them to facilitate and enable social distancing.

“We will continue to work tirelessly where queries remain open and will continue the dialogue with union representatives and any employee who still has concerns can of course come back to us. I encourage them to contact us at mail@hseni.gov.uk.

“I would also warn businesses that we take our obligations very seriously and will act to address unsafe working conditions where this is needed.”

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