Someone Has Been Hurt: What Next?
Jordan Hollingsworth, CSP, CHST, CUSP
It’s the news that every supervisor and safety
representative dreads: someone calls or rushes into the office to let you know that someone on your worksite has been hurt. Beyond affecting the health of your employee, the steps you take next will determine whether your company has complied with workplace safety regulations and may even protect you from serious legal problems. In addition, taking a thorough approach can help you prevent similar incidents in the future.
Once you determine the nature and severity of the injury, you’ll decide on the right action to take. It may be a call to 911, in which case you need to provide detailed directions to the jobsite and ensure that the emergency vehicles will have access. If the worker’s injuries are not severe enough to warrant an ambulance, he or she may need to be transported to the nearest occupational clinic or emergency room after a trained person has provided first aid.
It’s a good idea to call the clinic or emergency room to let them know that the employee is on the way, and to give them a summary of the individual’s condition. If your safety policy calls for a post-incident drug and alcohol screen, be sure to inform the clinic or emergency room so that they can provide that test.
Never let an injured employee drive himself or herself to medical attention, no matter how much the individual may insist. Nor is it a good idea to allow a fellow worker to provide that transportation. Instead, a company supervisor should take the employee, ideally in a company vehicle, because the injury is job-related.
Secure the scene
Because you’ll need to document the incident as accurately as possible, your next step is to make sure the location where it happened is protected and maintained. You should have access to an incident response kit that includes items such as warning signs and caution tape. Use the tape and signs to keep employees out of the area so you can perform the documentation.
How you record the details depends upon the nature of the incident and the worksite. It’s usually a good idea to take photographs of the area from several angles, as well as photos of any tools that were involved, ladders, personal protective equipment, and other equipment at the site. If the incident involved a fall, use a tape measure to record the height of the fall. If the worker dropped a tool, measure how far away the tool landed.
If any blood or bodily fluids were involved, be sure to wear latex gloves and any other appropriate protective gear and follow the proper procedures for cleanup and sterilization.
Identify all the workers who witnessed the incident or were in the immediate area and have them sign a sheet with their names and phone numbers. Ask any witnesses to write out a statement of what they saw, and as soon as the injured employee is able to prepare a written statement of what happened, have him or her do that. It’s important to do this quickly, because the longer you wait, the less likely everyone will be able to remember important details.
Next, you’ll want to review background information that may be related to the incident. For example, it’s a good idea to review the training records of all the personnel at the scene to ensure that they had received proper safety training, to verify that the daily hazard analysis correctly identified the hazards associated with the task that the injured employee had been performing, and to ensure that the employee had been properly briefed.
If equipment was involved, verify that all necessary manuals and specifications were available, and if chemicals played a role in the incident, you should review the MSDS sheets. Or, if the employee hurt his back while lifting something, weigh the object.
Debrief the team
As soon as possible after the incident, bring key people together for a post-incident meeting. That group should include the employee’s immediate supervisor, project managers, the safety director for the site, and any key employees who were involved.
There are two goals for this meeting. The first is to review what you’ve learned about the incident and how it might have been prevented. Then you should encourage the group to discuss specific steps that can be taken in the future to avoid similar incidents. It may be that a specific procedure can be changed, that some kind of protective devices are available, or that workers need more in-depth training on some aspect of safety.
Well worth the time and effort
Yes, the approach I’ve sketched out here will take some time and significant effort, but the investment will be well worth it. If the injury becomes a legal matter, having proper documentation will help you make a more compelling case for the company. Besides, workplace incidents are extremely costly in terms of medical costs, lost downtime, damaged morale, and higher insurance premiums, so an in-depth investigation and review that reduces the chances of future incidents may be a very small investment with a very sizable return.