THE statistics are frightening. Last year Irish businesses paid out €22m in compensation for workplace accidents, with the average award worth €27,286. For a small business with limited cash reserves, compensating an injured employee can be the difference between survival and insolvency.
The cost of these injuries extends beyond the €22m awarded in compensation, or the number of working days lost due to accidents. There is also a human cost, the unnecessary pain and suffering workers endure as a result of a workplace injury.
Fortunately there are practical steps that businesses can take to protect themselves and their employees, since most workplace injuries are preventable.
Slips, trips and falls are the largest cause of accidents in all sectors. Last year they accounted for 33pc of all claims.
One in five of those slips or trips resulted in employees missing a month of work, or more.
Part of the problem is that the dangers of slips and falls are underestimated.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) warns that people do not take falls seriously.
But employers should be concerned as research indicates employees don't take precautions because it is the company's responsibility (and not their own) to prevent slips and trips.
Yet nearly a quarter of all workplaces surveyed by inspectors last year had not carried out a slip, trip and fall risk assessment.
"Again and again the Board receives claims for a range of similar and preventable accidents such as severed limbs as a result of defective machinery, burns and scalds, or slips, trips and falls," said Patricia Byron, chief executive of claims agency The Injuries Board.
"Prevention can only be achieved by employers leading the way on risk management through robust health and safety initiatives."
Cleaning up spills immediately is an obvious solution to prevent slips, but the HSA warns that employers should not rely on 'caution' signs to warn people about wet surfaces. If they do not physically prevent access to the wet surface, they can easily be overlooked.
Nominating one person per shift to take charge of cleaning up spills is recommended, as this creates a clear chain of responsibility.
Trips can be avoided by reducing the amount that employees must carry – using dumb waiters, for example. Fitting mats with weights in high-footfall areas is also advised, as is providing good lighting and clearly identifying locations where the ground level changes, like unexpected steps.
"Proper management of workplace safety and health contributes to long-term commercial success and profitability.
"I would urge all business owners and directors to take some time this week to consider the safety systems they have in place and make sure not to leave anything to chance," said HSA chief executive Martin O'Hallorhan.