Close your eyes and imagine your worst nightmare: an accident has occurred at your workplace. The worker involved has been critically injured, or even worse, the worker has died.
It can sometimes be easy to lose sight of the steps that must immediately follow in the wake of a workplace tragedy. However, there are steps in place to ensure that you and your workplace are protected, that no other workers get injured in the process of a rescue, and that a root cause can be identified to prevent an accident of the same nature from ever happening again.
What is a Workplace Accident?
An accident is defined as “a sudden, unplanned event that causes harm to a person or damage to property.” Critical Injury Regulation 834 states that an injury is critical if one of the following circumstances is met:
- Places life in jeopardy
- Produces unconsciousness
- Results in substantial blood loss
- Involves fracture of arm or leg, but not finger or toe
- Involves amputation of arm or leg, foot or hand, but not finger or toe
- Consists of burns to major portion of the body
- Cause loss of sight in one or both eyes
The focus of the accident investigation must remain on the accident, rather than the injury. It is easy to get distracted or draw conclusions that are based on first impressions, but the result of doing so will be inaccurate recommendations and inadequate controls.
Workplace Accident Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Call 911
In the event of a workplace tragedy, there will be many people that have ideas about what to do first. However, the first step in the case of a critical injury of fatality is to call 911 to get emergency services on route immediately. This must include police if there is a fatality or if there was workplace violence involved.
Step 2: Administer first aid
The primary concern in the direct aftermath of an accident is the safety of the injured worker, and the safety of others. If administering first aid will put another worker in danger, then first aid should not be administered until trained emergency personnel arrive. For example, if a worker was injured in a confined space, and entering the space would put another at risk, then first aid should not be administered until trained help arrives.
Provided that offering first aid does not place anyone at greater risk, first aid should be administered if it is required until emergency services arrive.
Step 3: Secure and manage the scene
The responsibility for securing and managing the scene rests on the employer and/or the supervisor. Controlling the scene includes:
- Clearing employees from the area
- Controlling or eliminating sources of imminent danger
- 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
Disturbing the scene means altering, interfering with, destroying, or removing anything related to the scene. Section 51(2) of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act & Regulations states that in the event of a critical accident or fatality, a Ministry of Labour inspector must give permission before a scene can be disturbed with the exception of the following:
A scene may be disturbed without Ministry of Labour permission to:
- Save a life
- Relieve human suffering
- Maintain an essential utility or service
- Prevent unnecessary equipment damage
Step 4: Reporting
When there is a critical injury or fatality, the following parties must be notified immediately:
- Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC)
- Union (if applicable)
- Ministry of Labour (a written report must also be submitted within 41 day)
- Police (the police may automatically attend if dispatched, but must be notified of a death or any instance of fatality or injury involving workplace violence)
Step 5: Conduct an investigation
There may be parallel investigations at this stage. The Ministry of Labour, the police, and the JHSC may all be conducting their own investigations concurrently. The role of the employer is to work alongside each investigation, provide any documentation requested, and cooperate fully with all investigations.
There are several components to an investigation:
- Secure the scene
- Gather evidence
- Interview witnesses
- Investigate the root cause(s)
To gather evidence, the designated investigator should document and itemize everything requiring explanation. The investigator should take down names of witnesses, take photos of the scene, take applicable measurements or draw immediately observable facts. It is best practice to conduct interviews immediately. The purpose of an interview is fact-finding, not fault-finding or blame-laying. Ask simple, non-suggestive, and open-ended questions.
Once you are able to organize the information and separate facts from opinions, conclusions must be drawn to determine immediate and root causes.
Step 6: Create a final report and make recommendations
The final report will contain a detailed description of the accident, the harm created, the immediate and root cause(s), temporary or permanent controls implemented, and recommendations. Attach any photos, interview notes, drawings, and other applicable supporting documents. Recommendations made to management should be specific and detailed, and focus on root causes.
Step 7: Follow up
Ensure that recommendations are being followed through the use of a timeline for corrective action, as well as monitoring, and effective training and education.
Sometimes, when a workplace accident occurs, emotions take over, and the steps are forgotten. It is by effective training, the support of a sound JHSC, and a proactive accident prevention program that employers can ensure that they hopefully never have to follow the seven steps listed above. However, in the event that the worst happens in your workplace, be ready by being trained, being aware of the steps, and by being prepared to be cooperative. In times of tragedy or trauma, people look to strong leaders for guidance and example of how they should be acting. So, keep calm, follow the seven steps, and take measures to ensure that no accident of that nature can ever happen again.
Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator
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