A Step-By-Step Guide to Managing Workplace Accidents and Incidents

While the main goal of every health and safety program is to prevent injuries and accidents, the unfortunate reality is that they still happen in many workplaces. In the first half of 2023 alone, Ontario’s Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) reported over 120,000 injury claims.

Workplace incidents and accidents are highly stressful events for everyone involved, especially if they result in a critical injury or fatality. The overwhelming nature of these events often leads to confusion about what steps to take after an event and who is responsible for carrying them out.

The purpose of this guide is to help you understand what to do after an incident or accident to prevent similar events from occurring and comply with health and safety legislation.

You will learn:

  • The difference between an incident and an accident
    What to do immediately following an incident or accident
  • Who is responsible for specific procedures after an incident or accident occurs
  • Who needs to be notified and when
  • How to investigate and report the event

To effectively manage incidents and accidents, it’s important that everyone in your workplace understands their health and safety responsibilities and that your Joint Health & Safety Committee (JHSC) members have been trained to deal with these events.

What is the difference between an accident and an incident?

Both workplace accidents and incidents are sudden unplanned events. The difference is that a workplace accident causes harm to a product, process, property, or person, whereas a workplace incident is an event that could have resulted in an accident.

Examples of workplace accidents:

  • An employee not wearing fall protection while working on a roof slips and falls.
  • An employee not wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) sustains a chemical burn on their hand when they open an unlabeled container containing a corrosive chemical.
  • Inventory is damaged when it falls to the ground due to unstable shelving.

Examples of workplace incidents:

  • A reversing forklift almost hits an employee.
  • An employee slips on an icy surface but does not fall.
  • An employee’s clothing gets caught in machinery but tears before any injury occurs.

Reasons to investigate a workplace accident include:

Reasons to investigate a workplace incident include:

  • If an incident is ignored, it could result in an accident in the future because the hazard or process was never addressed.
  • The reporting process provides management with recommendations to make improvements that will create a safer work environment.
  • Documenting incidents allows you to track recurring incidents that may indicate problems with current processes.

What to do after a workplace incident or accident

Legally, critical injuries or fatalities must be reported to the MLITSD and investigated by the employer and JHSC. There is no requirement to report non-critical injuries or incidents to the MLITSD, but it is considered a best practice to investigate the incident to determine the causes to prevent future incidents.

These seven steps outline the actions to take to make sure that no one else is in danger and to address the causes of the incident or accident:

  1. Call 911
  2. Administer first aid
  3. Secure and manage the scene
  4. Notify required parties
  5. Conduct an investigation
  6. Prepare the final report
  7. Follow up on recommendations

Step 1: Call 911

If a critical injury or fatality occurs, the employer or supervisor is responsible for ensuring that 911 is called to get emergency services on route immediately. Police are also required at the scene if there is a fatality or where workplace violence is involved.
If a non-critical injury or near miss occurs, it’s unlikely you will need to call 911.

Step 2: Administer First Aid

The employer is responsible for ensuring first aid is provided to the injured person if it is safe to do so. If administering first aid will put another employee in danger, then first aid should not be administered until trained emergency personnel arrive. For example, if a person was injured in a confined space, and entering the space would put another at risk, then first aid should not be performed until trained help arrives.

If providing first aid does not place anyone at risk, it should be administered by an individual who has their first aid certification. In Ontario, every workplace must have at least one employee on-site at all times who has a valid first aid certificate.

Step 3: Secure and manage the scene

The employer or supervisor is responsible for taking action to secure and manage the scene. In the event of both accidents and incidents this could include:

  • Clearing employees from the area
  • Securing the scene with caution tape, barriers, and/or barricades
  • Ensuring that there is minimal scene disturbance, aside from anything required to be disturbed to deliver first aid and/or control or eliminate an imminent danger

Section 51(2) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) states that if a critical injury or fatality occurs, an MLITSD inspector must give permission before a scene can be disturbed. Disturbing the scene means altering, interfering with, destroying, or removing anything related to the scene.

There are some exceptions to this regulation. A scene may be disturbed without MLITSD permission to:

  • Save a life
  • Relieve human suffering
  • Maintain an essential public utility or transportation system
  • Prevent unnecessary equipment or property damage

Step 4: Notify required parties

If a near miss occurs or a person is injured as a result of an accident, employers are responsible for recording the event. The severity of the injury or incident will determine who the employer must notify.

Incidents/near misses
Events that do not result in an injury, but could have should be reported to the JHSC.

Injuries that require first aid only
Injuries that are non-critical and require first aid only should be reported to the JHSC. Examples of first aid-only injuries include:

  • A small cut that can be treated with antiseptic and a bandage
  • Minor skin irritation caused by exposure to a chemical that can be treated by flushing the area with water

Injuries that require health care treatment
Any injury that requires health care treatment (hospital, physiotherapist, etc.), reduced work hours, modified work, or lost time, must be reported to the WSIB, supervisor, and JHSC.

Critical injuries or fatalities
The employer is responsible for immediately notifying the following parties:

  • Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC)
  • MLITSD by submitting an accident report within 48 hours of the accident. Download our sample accident report template.
  • WSIB
  • Union (if applicable)
  • Police (the police may automatically attend if dispatched, but must be notified of a fatality or injury involving workplace violence)

Under the (OHSA), an injury is considered critical if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • Places a life in jeopardy
  • Causes unconsciousness
  • Results in significant loss of blood
  • Involves amputation of an arm or leg, hand or foot, or multiple fingers or toes
  • Involves fracture of an arm or leg, hand or foot, or multiple fingers or toes
  • Consists of burns to a major part of the body
  • Causes loss of sight in an eye

This table provides an overview of who should be notified for each type of injury.

Table showing requirements for reporting different types of occupational injuries and incidents. Columns: Event, Investigation, Who to notify, Timeframe, Documentation. Row 1: Event: Incident or near-miss. Investigation: Best practice. Who to notify: JHSC. Timeframe: Within 4 days. Documentation: Internal incident/accident report. Row 2: Event: First-aid only injury. Investigation: Best practice. Who to notify: JHSC. Timeframe: Within 4 days. Documentation: Internal incident/accident report. Row 3: Event: Non-critical injury requiring medical treatment. Investigation: Best practice. Who to notify: JHSC and WSIB. Timeframe: JHSC within 4 days, WSIB within 3 days. Documentation: Internal incident/accident report and WSIB Form 7. Row 4: Event: Critical injury or fatality. Investigation: Required. Who to notify: MLITSD, JHSC and WSIB. Timeframe: MLITSD 48 hours, JHSC ASAP, WSIB within 3 days. Documentation: Accident Report submitted by employer to MLITSD, Accident Investigation support to employer and MLITSD by JHSC and WSIB Form 7.
Incident and Injury Reporting Requirments

Step 5: Conduct an investigation

The purpose of an investigation is to determine the root cause of the event so that steps can be taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The JHSC should investigate both incidents and accidents.

After a critical injury or fatality, there could be multiple investigations happening at one time by the MLITSD, police, and JHSC. The employer is responsible for cooperating fully with all investigations and providing any documentation requested.

Under section 9 (31) of the OHSA, the JHSC has the right to designate a non-management member to investigate the accident where a worker was killed or critically injured and report their findings to the committee, employer, and MLITSD. When a JHSC member investigates a critical injury or fatality, they must:

  • Gather evidence
  • Interview witnesses
  • Investigate the causes

Ideally, the committee member conducting the investigation should be JHSC certified. All workplaces with 20 or more employees must have at least one non-management member who is certified. Members who have completed their JHSC certification will have learned how to investigate and report injuries in JHSC Part 1 training.

Gather evidence

To understand what caused the event, the investigator must document the evidence from the accident scene and review administrative policies that could have played a role in the event. Here are some steps to follow when gathering evidence:

  1. Document the things requiring explanation, for example, “why did a piece of equipment malfunction?”
  2. Record the names of all witnesses. Witnesses include individuals who saw the accident and those involved shortly before and directly after the accident or incident.
  3. Take measurements, drawings, and photographs of the accident scene. These will help create a record of the scene and provide a frame of reference when interviewing witnesses.
  4. Observe and record facts relating to physical evidence, such as:
      • Equipment in use
      • Safety devices in use
      • Damage to equipment
      • Physical signs of wear
      • Location and position of injured persons
  5. Observe and record facts about the physical environment, such as:
      • Noise levels
      • Time of day
      • Lighting levels
      • Temperature
      • Weather conditions (if applicable)
      • Exposure to hazardous materials
      • Air quality (haze or smells that seem abnormal)
  6. Review administrative policies and records and note anything that could have contributed to the accident. Documents you might look at include:
      • Training records – is there any outdated or missing training?
      • Inspection reports – were any potential hazards identified?
      • Inspection schedules – were inspections performed regularly?
      • Work processes – what procedures exist to help control hazards?
      • Equipment maintenance records – is there evidence of proper maintenance?

Interview witnesses

Witnesses may include supervisors, maintenance personnel, employees, customers, contractors, or suppliers. The purpose of an interview is to gather facts from the witnesses’ account of the event, not to place blame.

When interviewing a witness:

  • Conduct the interview as soon as possible when the information is still fresh
  • Create a standard document to use for witness interviews to ensure consistency
  • If the witness is upset, do your best to put them at ease
  • Explain to the interviewee that the purpose of the interview is to uncover facts, not to place blame
  • Use questions that are simple, non-suggestive, and open-ended, such as:
      • Where were you at the time of the accident?
      • What did you see or hear?
      • In your opinion, what caused the accident?
      • How might similar accidents be prevented in the future?
  • Let the witness recall the events without interrupting
  • Avoid making suggestions for the witness or asking leading questions
  • Provide your contact details and ask the witness to reach out if they remember any additional information

Investigate the causes

Once you have organized the information collected in the evidence gathering and interviewing steps, you must analyze it to determine the immediate and root causes of the accident.

The immediate cause is the final act or condition that led to the accident. Examples include:

  • Ice on the stairs
  • A broken machine part
  • Fume inhalation

The root cause is the underlying weakness in the safety system that led to unsafe actions or conditions that resulted in the accident. Examples include:

  • Poor ventilation
  • Inadequate training for employees
  • Lack of supervision
  • Inadequate safety program or procedures

The immediate cause of an accident is often obvious, but identifying the root cause can be more difficult.

To determine the root cause, start by analyzing the five factors that could have contributed to the accident:

  1. People – Consider the physical and mental condition of the people involved in the accident. For example:
      • Were they tired?
      • Were they rushing to complete a task?
      • Had they been trained to do the work?
      • Did they follow safety procedures?
  2. Equipment/Materials – Consider the equipment or materials used when the accident happened. For example:
      • Was there an equipment malfunction?
      • What caused the equipment to fail?
      • Was regular maintenance of equipment carried out?
      • Were there hazardous materials involved?
      • Were hazardous materials clearly identified?
      • Was PPE used?
      • Were employees trained on how to use PPE?
  3. Environment – Consider the work environment at the time of the incident and any conditions that weren’t typical. For example:
      • Were there objects obstructing pathways or lines of sight?
      • Was it too hot or cold?
      • Was there a lot of noise?
      • Was there poor lighting?
      • What was the air quality at the time of the accident?
  4. Process – Consider the work performed at the time of the accident and any processes related to it. For example:
      • Was a safe work procedure used?
      • Were the safe work procedures being enforced?
      • Are written procedures available to employees?
      • Were the appropriate tools available for the work being performed?
      • Was there a supervisor present?
      • Had hazards associated with the process been previously identified and assessed?
      • Had procedures been developed to eliminate or control hazards?

After most questions in your analysis, it’s important to ask the follow-up “why?” This will help you understand why an unsafe condition or behaviour was allowed to exist.

Chart showing an example of follow-up questions to ask when investigating why an employee suffered third-degree burns to their body while disposing of oil. Why #1: Why did the employee suffer third-degree burns to their body? Response #1 They fell into some hot oil. Why #2: Why did the employee fall into hot oil? Response #2: The oil leaked out of the pail they were carrying. Why #3: Why did the oil leak out of the pail? Response #3: The oil was hot and it melted the pail. Why #4: Why did the oil melt the pail? Response #4: The plastic pail was insufficient for the temperature of the oil. Why #5: Why did the employee use a plastic pail that was insufficient for the temperature of the oil? Response #5: Arrival at Root Cause - they were not trained on the proper procedures for oil disposal.
The Five Why’s Method of Incident Investigation

Step 6: Prepare the final report

The individual or group who conducted the investigation should prepare the final report. The report is meant to help everyone learn from the accident and prevent recurrences.

The final report should contain:

  1. A detailed description of the accident
  2. The harm or losses caused by the accident
  3. The immediate and root cause(s) of the accident
  4. Temporary or permanent controls implemented
  5. Recommendations to prevent similar incidents
  6. Interview notes, drawings, and other applicable supporting documents

Recommendations are an important part of the report because they describe specific actions that the employer must take to prevent similar accidents. The OHSA gives JHSCs the power to make recommendations to the employer and requires the employer to respond to those recommendations within 21 calendar days.

Recommendations should:

  • Address the root cause(s) of the accident
  • Identify the reason for the recommendation
  • Provide a detailed solution for eliminating or controlling the issue
  • Identify what steps and resources are required to fulfill the recommendation

Once the final report is complete, it should be shared with all JHSC members, the employer, and the MLITSD.

Step 7: Follow up on recommendations

Once the JHSC submits the report to the employer or management, it is the employer’s responsibility to act on the recommendations. The JHSC is responsible for monitoring whether recommendations are being followed.

To ensure that the employer is taking action and that the recommendations are effective, the JHSC should:

  1. Develop a timeline for corrective action
  2. Confirm that the scheduled actions have been completed
  3. Monitor whether the recommendations are working as intended

Effective communication between the employer or management and the JHSC is an important part of the follow-up process. If the employer has questions about a recommendation or wants to discuss an alternate solution, they should contact the JHSC.

Employers should also submit a written response to the JHSC within 21 days of the recommendation being made. If the employer agrees with the recommendation, they should confirm the timeline for implementing it. If the employer does not agree with the recommendation, they should outline an alternate solution to address the issue.


If an incident or accident happens, investigating and reporting the event is essential to help prevent future accidents and improve the safety of a workplace. Above all, cooperation from everyone in the workplace is essential to prevent accidents and injuries. Effective training, support from management, and a proactive/strong health and safety program can all help to prevent accidents and ensure the safety of everyone in the workplace.

Check out some more resources to help you improve health and safety in your workplace: