Workplace Health and Safety: Incidents and Accidents in the Workplace
Workplace accidents and incidents are traumatic events that can cause chaos in a workplace. There is always a root cause to every accident, incident and hazardous situation regardless of whether there is any damage, injury or illness. Accidents, incidents and hazardous situations where there is no damage, illness or injuries are known as near misses. It can sometimes be easy to lose sight of the steps that must immediately follow in the wake of a workplace accident.
The goal of any investigation is to determine how to prevent a re-occurrence of the hazard or accident. We need to investigate the near misses as well as the accidents with the same focus. The near misses are instances that if repeated will lead to far greater consequences. Spend the time to be proactive, not reactive. It will save you money, time and unnecessary headaches in the long run.
There are different terms related to accidents and incidents. They include:
- Incidents are an undesired event that, under slightly different circumstances, could have resulted in personal harm, property damage, or loss.
- Accidents are an undesired event resulting in physical harm to a person or damage to property.
- An injury is work-related physical harm or damage to a person.
- A fatality is a death.
- According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (R.R.O. 1990 Reg. 834, s.1), a critical injury is an injury of a serious nature that:
- Places life in jeopardy
- Produces unconsciousness
- Results in substantial loss of blood
- Involves the fracture of a leg or arm, but not a finger or a toe
- Involves the amputation of a leg, arm, hand, or foot, but not a finger or toe
- Consists of burns to a major portion of the body
- Causes the loss of sight in an eye
- A lost time injury/illness is one in which a worker loses time from work after the day of injury/illness, and/or loses wages as the result of a temporary or permanent impairment following a work-related incident.
- An occupational illness is an illness caused by exposure to a health hazard at work. It affects normal body mechanisms and changes an employee’s health.
- An environmental release is the release of a substance into the natural environment that causes an adverse effect.
- A fire is the combination of fuel, oxygen, heat and a chemical chain reaction causing loss, including injury and death.
- Medical aid is the treatment received from an injury that results in attention received from a recognized health care provider, but does not result in time away from scheduled work nor a wage loss.
- Property damage is loss or harm to property, equipment, tools or any other object or material used at (Insert Company Name Here).
- Workplace harassment is engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome
- Workplace violence is the exercise or attempt of physical force by a person against a worker in a workplace that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker, or a threat to exercise physical force against the worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker.
- A Near Miss is where a hazard presents itself and although there is no damage or injury, it presents a situation where if the hazard is not controlled or eliminated may cause damage or injury.
What to Do in Case of Accidents in the Workplace
The focus of the accident investigation must remain on the accident, rather than the injury. It is easy to get distracted or draw conclusions based on first impressions but doing so will result in inaccurate recommendations and inadequate controls. There are steps in place to ensure you and your workplace are protected, that no other workers get injured in the process of a rescue and a root cause can be identified to prevent an accident of the same nature from ever happening again.
Step 1: Call 911
Many people have ideas about what to do first but 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. If 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
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 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 states in the event of a critical accident or fatality, a Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development inspector must give permission before a scene can be disturbed. However, there are exceptions. A scene may be disturbed without Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development 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, Training and Skills Development (a written report must also be submitted within 48 hours)
- 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, Training and Skills Development, 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 investigator should document and itemize everything requiring explanation, take names of witnesses, take photos of the scene, take measurements or draw observable facts. Investigators must conduct interviews immediately. Ensure the 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 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 steps are forgotten. To prevent this from happening, ensure effective training, the support of a sound JHSC and a proactive accident prevention program.
In the event the worst happens, be ready by being trained, being aware of the steps, and by being prepared to be cooperate. In times of tragedy or trauma, people look to strong leaders for guidance and example of how they should be acting. Keep calm, follow the seven steps and take measures to ensure that no accident of that nature can ever happen again.