A Serious Accident Just Occurred! Now What?

August 27, 2018 No Comments

Major workplace accidents that result in serious injuries (including deaths) are stressful, confusing, and chaotic emergencies.   Fortunately, these catastrophic events are rare and most of us have little (or no) experience with them.  But should one happen on your watch, what would you do?  To help you cope with one of these rare traumatic events, I’ve listed the following fourteen tips designed to help you manage the aftermath of a serious injury accident. 

  • The first call after a serious injury accident should be to 911.  Get an ambulance to the scene ASAP.  If the injuries are truly serious, you will  usually not want to transport the injured worker to the emergency room yourself.  Post numerous employees out in the street, parking lot, and plant entrance to guide the ambulance attendants to exactly where the injured worker is.  On occasion, ambulance attendants have lost valuable time while temporarily lost in a large industrial complex.
  • What about getting a drug and alcohol test done on the seriously injured employee?  While doing so seems cold and heartless, if you have a post-accident drug and alcohol testing policy it must be uniformly applied – even if the injury is serious.  I would argue that because the workers compensation claim costs are likely going to be very high, it’s more important then ever to get a drug and alcohol test done on serious injury cases.  While it may not be pleasant, be assertive and make sure the drug and alcohol test is done as soon as practical.
  • Curiosity and a genuine desire to help will compel most employees to go to the accident scene.  This is not a good idea.  Unless an employee is a qualified first aider, keep them away from the accident scene.  In fact, you may want to shut down the plant for the remainder of the shift and have employees vacate the premises.
  • Often, the police will arrive shortly after the ambulance leaves.   A serious injury accident scene is also a “crime scene”.   The police will likely put up “crime scene yellow tape” around the area where the accident happened.  No one will be allowed within this protected area without police permission.  Of course you will want to fully cooperate with the police. 
  • If there is a fatality, amputation, or three or more employees are hospitalized call your nearest OSHA area office.  OSHA will usually send their most senior person to investigate the accident.  When the COSHO arrives, they will be impressed if the accident scene still is protected by the police tape.   So, if the police leave before OSHA shows up, don’t take down the police crime scene tape.
  • Radio and TV station personnel listen to the police and fire radio channels.  One time I showed up at one of my plants soon after they had a serious accident only to find a TV camera crew standing just outside a raised overhead door filming the accident scene that was just inside the plant.  I simply closed the door to prevent further filming.  Also, most companies have a policy that says only one person is allowed to speak to the media on behalf of the company – and that person is often the corporate lawyer.
  • I had one serious injury accident that was not a fatality, but OSHA showed up right away anyway – without my having called them.  I asked OSHA why they were here, after all, there was no fatality.  The COSHO said that he’d heard about the accident on the local radio station and responded.  OSHA does has the authority to investigate any accident they choose, even if it is not a fatality.
  • If your serious accident involved equipment or machinery, your workers compensation insurance company will likely attempt to subrogate the claim against the manufacturer of the machinery/tool involved.   Don’t be surprised if your carrier sends an expert electrical and/or mechanical engineer out and do a thorough inspection of the equipment involved in the accident.  
  • You will not want to return the equipment/machinery involved in the accident to production until you receive the go ahead from: the police, OSHA, and the insurance company.  Sometimes it can take weeks before all parties will allow the machinery to return to service.
  • The OSHA Act does have criminal penalties, but they are rarely invoked (the David Weber mentioned in the aforementioned link is NOT me).  The few cases that I am familiar with that resulted in the owner of a company (or an executive, or  a safety manager) going to jail all involved serious accidents that resulted in a workers death.  In the event of a fatality, I recommend that you have a well qualified safety professional (with prior OSHA experience) to be your liaison with the OSHA investigator.  If this safety professional is a third party consultant, they should have had done prior work with your company, because  they won’t have much credibility with OSHA if they are brought in cold just to handle the serious accident.
  • While the injured employee is in the hospital, regularly post updates on their medical condition on bulletin boards throughout the plant.
  • If the employee dies, the owners and executives of the company should attend the funeral.  Also, it is an appropriate gesture to allow any employee who wants to attend the funeral to do so with pay if the funeral is during working hours.
  • Many employees who witnessed the accident will be emotionally disturbed.  You may want to offer free psychological counselling to all employees who have been traumatized by the accident.
  • Finally, if you ever have a serious injury accident you will learn that those written (or electronic) safety documents you have been keeping are worth their weight in gold.  If you are not doing so already, make sure that you are documenting and archiving all: safety training, safety inspections, accident investigations, preventative equipment and machinery maintenance, and compliance with third party safety inspectors’ recommendations. 

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