Accident · Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 · Health and Safety Regulations · Health and Safety Training

DON’T PANIC! – what to do when an accident occurs at work

DON’T PANIC! The comforting words written on the cover of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and immortalised by Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army. Humorous words that are more than apt if you are involved in an incident/accident at work.

For the purposes of this article, I will be using the following definitions (other definitions are available):

  • Incident – is a sequence of events or actions not necessarily finishing with an Injury
  • Accident – is an incident plus its consequences
  • Injury – is a consequence of failure

First things first,

if you are involved in, or witness an incident/accident/injury what should you do?
If you are involved in, or witness an incident/accident/injury at work, what should you do?

Ideally within your workplace you should already be familiar with:

  • Where the first aid box/first-aiders are located?
  • How to contact the emergency services?

Don’t panic:

  • Endeavour to stay calm and rational
  • Call or send for help and only attempt rescue if you can do so without putting yourself at risk
  • Protect the casualty from further harm (e.g. switch power off, stop vehicles approaching area)

For major incidents (such as those associated with RIDDOR and equipment, vehicle, damage etc. Preserve the incident scene (as best as possible considering the needs to the casualty) as the scene may need to be investigated

  • Warn others/cordon off area to prevent harm
  • Report the hazard to your supervisor
  • Don’t make repairs unless you are authorised, qualified and trained to do so

What Happens Next?

The incident needs to be reported for statutory (legal), moral, company and financial reasons.

The Legal Compliance Issue

Under the Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations (RIDDOR) it is a statutory requirement to report certain incidents to the enforcing authority.  This can either be the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or the local Environmental Health Officer (EHO) depending on where the incident occurs.  Some of the reportable incidents are shown below.

  • Death – an employee or self-employed person working on your premises is killed or suffers a major injury (including as a result of physical violence) or a member of the public is killed or taken to hospital.
  • Fracture other than to fingers thumbs or toes
  • Amputation
  • Dislocation if shoulder, hip, knee or spine
  • Loss of sight (either temporary or permanent including chemical or foot metal burn or penetrating injury to eye)
  • Electric Shock or Burn leading to unconsciousness or requiring resuscitation or hospital admittance for more than 24hrs.
  • Loss of consciousness, due to lack of oxygen or exposure/absorption of substance or biological agent

Any other injury:

  • leading to hypothermia, heat induced illness or unconsciousness
  • Requiring resuscitation or
  • Requiring hospital admittance for more than 24hrs

Lost Time Incident

A report needs to be compiled for any person who as a result of a workplace injury (including acts of physical violence) does not return to work for more than7 days (excluding the day of the injury but including days which would not have been normal working days).

Dangerous Occurrences – are incidents where there was the potential for injury but it did not happen. These include but not limited to:

  • Collapse, overturning or failure of lifting machinery.
  • Failure of pressure system that had the potential to cause death.
  • Failure of any load bearing part of a freight container during lifting operations.
  • Collapse of building or structure (any floor or building in use)
  • Collapse of scaffolding more than 5m high
  • Escape of substances sufficient to cause death, major injury or any other damage to health.
  • Explosion or fire resulting in 24hrs stoppage of work.

Certain Diseases

  • A registered Medical Doctor will normally inform the employer (either directly or via the patient) of a reportable disease.

Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations

Under these regulations employers are required to keep an ‘Accident Book’ (paper or electronic).  It should be noted that all employees should have access to the reporting system but completed reports should be held in a confidential manner to comply with the Data Protection Act  and ensure all personal injuries are entered into it.  This is so that the Department of Work and Pensions can cross-reference any claim submitted to them.

The Moral Issue

No employee really wants to see another employee get injured. By reporting an incident you will be ensuring that it is less likely to happen to the next person.  Remember you could be the next person!

The Financial Incentive

Every single incident costs the company dearly.  The costs can range from a plaster for a cut and the time taken to apply it, to more serious incidents of seriously injured people or equipment/aircraft damage.

Reporting an incident will allow the company to prevent a reccurrence of the incident, which in turn should save the company money.

Another financial incentive is the fact that if it is a serious incident the company may be taken to court and fined.  There may also be the cost of a compensation claim.

It should be noted that employers can insure against personal injury, ill-health, certain kinds of damage, however regular accidents will more than likely see employers insurance premiums rise.

In addition employers cannot insure against all costs associated with an incident these can include, Product and material damage, tool and equipment damage, legal costs, expenditure on emergency supplies, cleaning site, production delays, overtime working and temporary labour, investigation time, supervisors’ time diverted, clerical effort, fines, loss of expertise/experience.

Ultimately, the money for the cost of an incident has to come out of somebody’s budget.

This means that if you wanted to upgrade something within your department you may not be able to, as the money allocated has been re-directed to pay for the incident.

So, surely it is better to manage and prevent incidents and recurrence before they happen?

Accident Investigation

Once the incident has occurred and any casualties have been dealt with, an investigation into its cause should be carried out.

This usually involves a supervisor, manager or other responsible person finding out what happened and looking for ways to prevent recurrence.

If you have been involved in an incident you maybe required to give a statement during an interview.  The incident investigator will be looking to fact find in order to set in place preventative measures, not to put blame on someone.  In some incidents local managers will carry out the basic investigation.  In the case of more serious incidents, other investigators (such as Senior Management, Health and Safety Executive, Specialist Investigators etc.) may be called in to carry out the investigation.  This may mean individuals are interviewed on several occasions as the incident investigation progresses.

Once the incident has been fully investigated, recommendations will be made as to preventive measures. Disciplinary actions are always a last resort but may be necessary in some instances.

So for the reasons outlined in this article remember:

Don’t Panic

Keep calm during an incident and ensure all incidents are reported.  In the long term it will improve you and your colleagues’ safety.

If you would like any further information on accidents at work or basic health and safety training for staff, visit our website.

The information contained in this article is intended to a basic overview of health and safety management.  It is not designed to be a legal document, but a quick guide for readers to know where to look for relevant information.  Readers are advised that only following the information in this article may not lead to legal or best practice compliance in health and safety management.  Competent advice must be sought before following any advice in this article.  

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