The big return | How can employers mitigate the risks of workplace accidents post WFH or furlough?

How can employers mitigate the risks of workplace accidents post WFH or furlough?

By Karoliina Gutaj, Global Head of Strategy & Marketing – Group Personal Accident, Generali Employee Benefits (GEB) Network

The big return is well underway. And on a worldwide basis. Although accidents and injuries – in and out of work – were significantly down last year, that might well change as people start returning to work, commuting, travelling abroad for work and pleasure, and simply getting back to some semblance of normality at home.

This is presenting employers everywhere with unique challenges and increased risks, such as yet more business interruption. So, what can employers do to mitigate these risks and reduce the potential for accidents?

First, let’s look at the extent of the problem. Accidents come in all shapes and sizes and can just as easily happen out of work as in. This begs the question, were they really reduced while all those people were working from home, often in less-than-ideal circumstances?

Evidence on various fronts suggests yes, they were. If we zoom in on UK government road casualty statistics for 2020, for example, we find that road traffic in 2020 decreased by 21%. This translated into a 25% reduction in road casualties of all severities in 2020. Pedal cyclist casualty rates saw the greatest percentage decrease (34%) compared to all other road user types.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has yet to publish full year figures for 2020, but an interim HSE report focused on the impact of Covid-19, published in November 2020, found that the number of work-related accidents and injuries in the UK was down last year, in comparison to 2019. In fact, the numbers for non-fatal injuries reported in March 2020 fell back significantly, from 5,872 in March 2019 to 3,068 in March 2020.

This may be due to a genuine reduction in number of injuries as ways of working changed over the month. Or it may be due to a fall in reporting levels (or a combination of the two). In other words, although Covid-19 is unlikely to be the sole driver, it is likely to have accentuated the overall scale of the annual decrease.

The cost to people and business

There’s obviously a human cost to accidents and injuries in terms of the loss of quality of life – and all the knock-on effects of that – and of course the loss of life in the case of fatal injuries. But there are also financial costs to business to consider, in terms of: productivity impact – for example, production costs, such as cost of recruitment and work reorganisation; the cost of Employer’s Liability compulsory insurance, less compensation payouts to individuals; health and rehabilitation costs, such as NHS costs; and administrative and legal costs, such as costs of administering benefits claims.

According to the HSE Cost Model, when these human and financial costs are added up, the total cost of non-fatal injuries can be around £8,800, which rises steeply to £34,400 if the individual is absent for 7 or more days. Fatal injuries can ruin a business, costing £1,745,000, a figure that does not also reflect the emotional and reputational fallout from such an incident.

In short, managing and mitigating these risks is paramount, especially right now as the world opens up.

How can employers manage and mitigate the risks?

  • First things first, assess the risks. Obviously, any changes in the workplace necessitate a risk assessment, including bringing people back after home working or furlough. And these need to be ideally carried out regularly by a qualified Health & Safety professional until all employees are re-established. Communication is key as part of this. For example, after a long time on furlough, employees might find certain tasks unfamiliar. Or they might be unaware of new processes. This poses a risk to them and the business as there’s a chance that something could go wrong. Induction programmes and phased returns might be considered appropriate for some people.

  • Ensure health & safety processes are fit for purpose. A Health & Safety expert will also assess processes to ensure that the risk of accidents and injuries is kept to an absolute minimum. For example, the creation of an occupational health & safety management system that meets the requirements of standards such as ISO 45001. This Standard covers every aspect of your business, from training and personnel to operation, to ensure that the business promotes health & safety awareness and controls risks and opportunities throughout.

  • Consider Group Personal Accident (GPA) cover. This form of insurance is a no-brainer for all organisations and all employees. Cover varies between providers but typically includes: accidental death; temporary and permanent disablement; broken bones; funeral expenses; and psychological therapy benefit. Responsible employers will be ensuring it forms part of the foundation of their benefits programme, and never more so than during ‘the big (& worldwide) return’. It’s low cost, customisable, there’s no waiting for payments and it can cover employees in or out of work. Payments can be made either as a lump sum or a weekly benefit. The employee benefits from financial support while out of action, removing a big part of the worry for themselves and their families. Meanwhile, the employer benefits from reduced business disruption and a more attractive and robust employment package to support talent attraction and retention.

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