In the course of my 40-year safety career, I have had the unfortunate experience of responding to, and dealing with, fatalities, and serious injuries. Recently, I have assisted two employers in responding to work-related fatalities. Most organizations suffer a form of shock following a fatality or serious injury, and many have no idea how to respond in the hours and days following such a devastating event.
Despite the organizational trauma and shock induced by these events, many important actions must be taken to care for those affected and to protect the interests of the organization and others.
The worst time to learn how to respond to a crisis is after it occurs — knowing what to do, how to do it, and who to contact can impact the emotional health of other employees, and the potential civil and regulatory liability of the organization. Missteps and delays only serve to compound an already tragic situation. There are specific actions all employers should take following such an incident to protect themselves and their employees.
All employers should consider supporting the training of employees in CPR and First Aid. In a recent fatality, employees performed CPR for 15 minutes before paramedics arrived to transport the victim to the hospital. Sadly, the victim died, but the employees who assisted gave the victim the chance to be saved.
Secure the Scene:
Immediately after caring for the needs of the injured employee, secure the accident scene. Shut off any lockout equipment possibly involved in the incident and secure the perimeter of the accident scene with barricades or caution tape.
This is one of the most difficult phone calls anyone will make. Ideally, the phone call should be made by someone who knows the injured or deceased employee. Employers should offer to arrange transportation to the hospital or morgue. How terrible would it be if an accident caused by a grief-stricken relative occurred on the way to the hospital? The employer should make sure a representative is present at the hospital or morgue to meet with the family.
News media monitors police scanners and are often immediately aware of serious injuries and fatalities. Media outlets will often call the organization looking for information. Employers should develop a media response protocol to protect their interests, and allow the time for a thorough incident investigation to be completed. Organizations should consider engaging a public relations firm to assist in developing an emergency media response strategy for many different types of scenarios.
Contact your workers’ compensation insurance company as soon as possible. Explain that you have secured the accident scene and offer them the opportunity to send a trained investigator to the location.
You must contact OSHA within 8 hours of your knowledge of a work-related fatality and 24 hours knowledge of in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. Before you contact OSHA, conduct a preliminary investigation to collect as many facts as possible.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the injury or fatality, third parties may have potential liability. For example, an employee is badly injured and hospitalized operating a machine. Because the employee may file suit against the machine manufacturer, employers are obligated to notify the machine manufacturer of the incident and allow them the opportunity to investigate and examine its machine.
Following the initial response and notification of the victim’s family, an initial investigation should be conducted. Memories fade rapidly, so witnesses should be interviewed as soon as reasonably possible. Take photographs and measurements, and attempt to determine the sequence of events leading up to the injury or fatality. We find it most effective to have one person ask questions, and a second person records the answers and information provided.
A work-related death or serious injury can have a significant impact on other employees. Employers have a duty to notify coworkers of the incident. Failure to communicate can foster suspicion and employees may believe the silence is an admission of guilt. Following the considerate, initial interviews of witnesses, employers may wish to suspend operations. Offer to arrange transportation for employees who may be grief-shaken to ensure safe travel. Employers should arrange for one-on-one grief counseling for affected employees.
It is common for local police to be involved in a workplace fatality investigation. They may be contacted by the responding fire department or paramedics. The police are involved in ruling out foul play, and they may conduct their own investigation, including interviews with witnesses. Be polite and cooperative, but ask them to kindly respect the feelings of witnesses shaken by the event. Police may or may not collect and take evidence from the scene.
OSHA may or may not inspect in the case of a serious injury, but it is almost certain they will inspect in the event of a fatality. The inspection may occur on the day of the incident or several days or weeks later. The agency may call the employer by phone following notification to collect essential details. The inspection should focus on circumstances surrounding the fatality or injury, and the compliance officer should be discouraged from pursuing hazards and programs unrelated to the incident.
No one wants to believe a fatality or serious injury can occur in their workplace, but employees are killed or severely injured on the job every day. The shock, confusion, and emotion following these events demand a coherent and structured response. Developing relationships with third-party safety consulting firms who know how to handle these matters makes sense for organizations that lack the services of a full-time safety professional. The clients we assisted over the years are eternally grateful for the assistance provided as they cope with their grief. Being there to guide a client through this difficult process is one of the most important services a consultant can provide. If you have questions or would like to discuss how your organization can be better prepared, please contact Horton Safety Consultants or your Horton representative.
Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.