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Coronavirus: Surge in workplace complaints but no site visits, says Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive

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Health and Safety Executive said it will not be visiting workplaces in Northern Ireland to check on coronavirus measures.

Health and Safety Executive said it will not be visiting workplaces in Northern Ireland to check on coronavirus measures.

Health and Safety Executive said it will not be visiting workplaces in Northern Ireland to check on coronavirus measures.

Northern Ireland's Health and Safety Executive has had a 1,800% increase in complaints made against firms over safety concerns amid the coronavirus lockdown measures but said it has no plans to visit employers.

It said the majority of the allegations concerned Covid-19 and social distancing measures in the workplace.

Over the past week workers have staged walkouts over safety concerns during the crisis. Those firms involved stressed their priority was the health and safety of their employees and they were following government guidelines.

The Health and Safety Executive said it was seeing "great efforts from companies to introduce the necessary measures and the vast majority are complying with our requests".

"We have examples where production lines have been extended, break times staggered, canteen tables restricted to one per person, increased cleaning and physical measures such as perspex panels to minimise contact have been introduced," the organisation said in a statement.

"We are seeing voluntary temporary closures being introduced in sectors such as construction. These are the sort of changes we are working with industry to introduce.

"Our work with industry will save lives. Support in key messaging from industry, trade bodies and trade unions has all helped ensure the protection of workers in line with UK Government and Public Health Agency guidelines."

It said it had been clear that measures to maintain social distancing must not only be put in place but must be adhered to by staff and strictly monitored by management.

"The success of any social distancing regime will depend on high levels of collaboration between staff and management," the organisation said.

The Health and Safety Executive told the BBC Stephen Nolan show it will not be visiting businesses to see what measures have been put in place and if social distancing is taking place.

It said should allegations be made they will instead ask employers to prove compliance by email, verbal assurance, or sending in a picture. It said this was the most efficient way to handle the matter.

Trade union Unite said the approach was "not good enough".

"This can't go on.. as a body it is failing workers in Northern Ireland," regional organiser Susan Fitzgerald told the BBC Nolan show.

She said staff at the organisation were also worried about the approach.

The First Minister and deputy First Ministers said those firms not enforcing health authority guidance could face tough action. A forum has been set up to consider issues around health and safety in workplaces around Northern Ireland and the best approach.

Arlene Foster said it was time everyone was on the same page in terms of the approach to dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

"The time for excuses is long past," she said.

The Department for Economy said employers had a "legal obligation" to put safety of staff first and workers also had an obligation to ensure their safety and of those they work with.

The Health and Safety Executive said given the large volume of calls it was dealing with its approach was to offer advise and work with companies on Covid-19 guidance.

It said visits to employers provided only a snap shot of time and were not effective. It stressed it did not have the power to shut down businesses but could enforce a partial stop on some processes.

"Our staff are dedicated and are working tirelessly to deal with each and every call we receive to achieve the outcome which best protects workers health and safety," it said in a statement on its website.

"Our inspectorate staff are contacting businesses in response to raised concerns to ensure that measures are put in place to maintain social distancing and minimise the risks associated with Covid-19.

"Given the range of work sectors HSENI deals with the implementation of these measures can be complex. This approach is allowing us to prioritise resources, rapidly raise concerns and point to appropriate measures which need to be taken. Inspectors are requiring employers to provide evidence of the measures being taken."

The statement added: "HSENI’s approach to this unprecedented situation has the support of Economy Minister, Manufacturing NI and Unite. Companies who are still working must operate in compliance with the UKGov and PHA guidelines. We will continue to provide help and assistance to companies to ensure this is the case."

Belfast Telegraph