How to Handle a Workplace Incident

Risk Register – The Start of Your Company’s Safety Journey
July 22, 2021
Using Behavior-Based Safety to Stop Complacency
August 5, 2021
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Maxime Ouellet, ing.

How to Handle a Workplace Incident

 

 

When an accident happens at work, it’s necessary to perform the proper steps in the correct order so that everyone stays safe, and a good investigation can take place. A good investigation is not to find blame but to discover what caused the accident so it can be prevented from happening again.

Let’s walk through a scenario to help illustrate the steps and show why they are necessary.

 

An accident scenario

While cleaning inside a tank, a worker loses consciousness while another worker and the confined space supervisor watch. Your first reaction is to rush to the victim as fast as you can, but that could be a fatal error. Your first step must be to make sure the area is safe to enter.

 

The entire company should know this first step, not just the EHS personnel. The first person on the scene should direct someone to contact the safety person while they assess the safety of the area.

 

With the area safe to enter, any injured parties can be brought out and treated. Once the emergency is taken care of, it’s time to start the investigation. Depending on the size of the company, this could be done by the safety person or a supervisor, or whomever is assigned this task.

Freeze the area of the incident

The area has to be frozen so that nothing gets moved or contaminated, much like a CSI scene on TV. Your goal is to discover the What, Why, When, and How of the incident. This is the fact gathering portion. There are several reasons you want to do this quickly.

 

  1. It’s difficult to keep things from moving or changing. The quicker your investigation, the more confident you can be about the scene facts.
  2. Witnesses will lose or alter their memories over time. Get their statements before they are contaminated by discussions with other people, or their focus on work
  3. Investigators need to complete their investigations before their own minds are contaminated from all kinds of information and opinions that can alter their viewpoints.

Do you investigate the worker or the accident?

One of the facts of the incident is Who got injured. But it’s not one of the What, Why, When and How questions you’re trying to uncover. Not only is the identity of the injured party irrelevant at this point, it can damage the investigation.

 

Let’s say that the injured worker is someone that the investigator is really close to. Then it’s possible that the investigator will only look for what she wants to find when doing the fact gathering. Or she might skew the data to make sure her friend isn’t punished in any way.

 

What if you put the injured person’s name on the report and the investigator knows that this person is not the best worker, has had other accidents, and isn’t well-liked by the investigator? She might think that the injured person is the cause of the accident before even starting the investigation. People can easily be biased without consciously being aware of it. They also tend to get lazy and take the easy route. Investigators are no different.

 

What is relevant to the incident is the type of person involved. Was he a subcontractor, a temp, a pedestrian walking by?

 

 

The basic steps

The basic steps are:

  • Make sure the accident area is safe to enter before going in
  • Complete the investigation as quickly as possible to get the most accurate conclusions
  • Don’t put the injured party’s name on the form as it might interfere with the investigation
  • Just get the facts of the scene and the facts from witnesses. Everything else is conjecture.

 

What are the real whys?

It’s more convenient to look for a simple explanation, or cause of the incident rather than looking deep enough and finding the actual causes (most of the time there’s more than one). Unfortunately, most people will tend to stick with what they saw. “The worker was hot and became unwell.” For example. The think that once they find the obvious cause, there is no reason to dig further to see if there are any other causes.

 

And that’s what we’ll be discussing in part 2 of this article (coming soon!). How to dig deeper to find all the relevant causes so that your investigation will give great insights into how to improve worker safety.

 

By Maxime Ouellet, Chief Innovation and Product Officer.