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Large rise in Covid-19 workplace concerns in Northern Ireland

An ‘unprecedented’ volume of calls has been received about social distancing, a watchdog said.

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Health and safety inspectors have recorded a nine-fold increase in complaints following the coronavirus outbreak in Northern Ireland (Ben Birchall/PA).

Health and safety inspectors have recorded a nine-fold increase in complaints following the coronavirus outbreak in Northern Ireland (Ben Birchall/PA).

Health and safety inspectors have recorded a nine-fold increase in complaints following the coronavirus outbreak in Northern Ireland (Ben Birchall/PA).

Health and safety inspectors have recorded a nine-fold increase in complaints following the coronavirus outbreak in Northern Ireland.

An “unprecedented” volume of calls have been received about social distancing and Covid-19 in the workplace, the watchdog said.

Guidelines have been put in place for manufacturers after some employees at poultry producers Moy Park briefly walked out over health and safety concerns.

On Tuesday the Public Health Agency said there had been six deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19 since the last update on Monday, bringing the total in the region to 28.

Coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland
(PA Graphics)

The Health and Safety Executive in Northern Ireland (HSENI) said: “HSENI has received approximately a 900% increase in complaints and a very high volume of requests for information and advice.

“This is an unprecedented volume of calls, the majority of which have been about Covid-19 and social distancing in the workplace.

“We are aware our colleagues in the local councils have been receiving requests for assistance as well.

“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.”

Measures introduced to support businesses include a reduction in rates, a tax imposed by Stormont’s ministerial Executive.

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Finance Minister Conor Murphy (Liam McBurney/PA)

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Conor Murphy said he and his colleagues have received an extra £912 million to deal with the effects of coronavirus as part of steps announced by the Westminster Government.

HSENI said it is working with companies to ensure compliance with the guidelines.

It added: “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 “vast majority” are said to be complying with requests.

The organisation added: “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.”

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Sinn Fein Assembly member Colm Gildernew said any employer that does not make arrangements to protect workers must be held to account (Rebecca Black/PA)

It said voluntary temporary closures were being introduced in sectors such as construction.

Sinn Fein Assembly member Colm Gildernew said: “Any employer that does not make arrangements to protect workers must be held to account.

“It is my firm view that during this public health emergency, the Health and Safety Executive must be proactive to protect and promote the health and well-being of workers and their families.”

PA