Imagine an ambulance just took your employee to the hospital for an eye injury. You wonder how this could have happened; you provide safety glasses to all workers. A ton of questions come to mind. Will the employee be okay? Will their vision be impacted? Could they lose their eye? Will your company be in trouble? Could this happen to another employee? What are you supposed to do now? These questions and many more are running through your mind following a workplace incident where a piece of wood debris kicked back into a worker’s face.
Regardless of injury or illness type, the best place to start after a workplace incident is to ensure that the injured person receives prompt medical attention and contain the hazard so that no one else is at risk of being hurt. If a piece of equipment malfunctioned, disconnect it from its power source and be sure to lock and tag it out until someone can repair it appropriately. If you suspect that the injured employee failed to follow proper safety protocols, make sure the rest of the team follows the correct procedures. Evaluate the situation to take immediate action to prevent additional injuries.
Report Serious Injuries and Illnesses
All employers must report any workplace fatality within 8 hours, and work-related hospitalizations, amputations, or the loss of an eye within 24 hours to OSHA or their state agency, if applicable. If a state safety agency governs an employer, then the employer reports to that agency and not OSHA. Washington and Oregon both report to their corresponding state agencies, and Idaho reports to OSHA.
- Washington L&I 1-800-423-7233, Option 1
- Oregon OHSA 1-800-922-2689
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) 1-800-321-6742
Employers should plan on protecting the scene of the incident. Following the reporting of a serious injury, hospitalization, or fatality, the reporting agency will likely conduct a workplace investigation. Employers can move equipment as necessary to assist the victim or to prevent further harm. Besides these changes, somebody should preserve the scene until the responding agency can investigate or give the employer an okay to resume work in this area. Preservation includes not moving machinery, tools, or personal protective equipment (PPE) involved in the incident.
Conduct an Internal Investigation
In addition to reporting incidents that result in a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or the loss of an eye, employers must also conduct an internal investigation. The investigation should aim to identify the incident’s root cause (or causes) and the corresponding corrective actions to prevent the incident from occurring again in the future. Employers must also conduct this internal investigation if time-loss (including kept on salary) or light duty is associated with a worker’s compensation claim. Steps include:
- Preserve the scene of the incident for federal or state inspectors if one of the serious incidents mentioned above occurs.
- Assign people to assist federal or state Investigators if applicable; this may be the immediate Supervisor, witnesses to the incident, or other persons that may have direct knowledge of the area.
- Look for facts that either caused or contributed to the incident—interview witnesses and those who have direct knowledge of the work area’s processes. Compare what happened with what should have happened. Identifying the differences can help determine how to prevent the incident from reoccurring.
- Document all investigation findings, including who was involved, where and when the incident occurred, and all contributing factors to the event. Make specific recommendations to prevent the incident from happening again.
- Have management review the findings report and determine what follow up actions need to occur. Add who will complete action items and due dates to the written report. Without accountability, even good intentions can get lost.
- Follow up to ensure that corrective actions have been taken. Then, communicate to management and employees what steps have been taken.
Treat Near-Misses as Opportunities for Improvement
Although there are investigation requirements when a serious incident occurs in the workplace, employers are also encouraged to review minor incidents, even those that do not result in an injury or illness. This review is one of the best ways to find out what could cause injuries down the road and can help you work proactively to prevent them. Industry statistics show that for every three hundred (300) near-misses, one (1) serious injury occurs. In many workplaces, employees don’t even consider reporting near-miss incidents because they weren’t hurt; this is a missed opportunity for employers that want to improve workplace safety. By looking at root causes for each near-miss incident and minor injury, employers can put controls in place to prevent major injuries before they occur. Creating a system to address these incidents will help reduce injuries and help create a dialogue between employers and employees, which improves workplace culture and engagement, both of which have positive effects on injury and incident rates and safety overall. Some steps to creating a near-miss program include:
- Train employees on how to recognize hazards and why they should do so. Consider having each employee fill out a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) when they start employment and when they move to a new work area. Having the employee complete a JHA can help them become more aware of the hazards in the area and help identify hazards that may not have been previously identified in the company performed JHAs. However, employers should not rely on this activity to meet state or federal requirements.
- Create a near-miss and minor injury reporting program. Use logbooks near first-aid kits, electronic reporting, anonymous safety concern/recommendation boxes, safety committee reporting, etc. Just make sure the program is working. Do not reprimand employees for reporting incidents, nor penalize them for bringing up concerns. Make every attempt to address all incidents and concerns with action and update the staff with the action. Look for alternatives if recommendations are not feasible and involve employees in hazard analysis groups or utilize the safety committee to address workplace safety issues.
- Train employees on any new controls or job processes introduced as a result of near-miss reporting and injury investigations.
- Observe the results of newly introduced controls and training, review near-miss reports, and seek feedback. Are the controls working? Are near-misses and injuries being reduced? If not, why? Do further actions need to be taken? This is not a one and done approach; safety should be an ongoing consideration in all business practices.
- Don’t forget to celebrate successes and recognize everyone for their safety efforts. For a near-miss and injury reduction program to be successful, employees need to see management’s commitment to ongoing safety efforts, including showing appreciation to employees and the steps they take to keep themselves and those around them safe. Celebrations should recognize safety efforts and goals accomplished, such as 100% use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) or hazard identification programs. Employers should avoid setting goals around “zero accidents” as this can lead to reporting suppression and may violate OSHA safety incentive program rules.
Employer’s Guide to Workplace Injuries
It can be easy to be overwhelmed when a workplace injury occurs. Between requirements, best practices, and legal considerations, employers might miss a step. Archbright has created the Employer’s Guide to Workplace Injuries to help employers better understand how to handle workplace injuries, including HR, safety, workers’ compensation, and legal considerations. Eligible members can access the guide located on the Members Only website or mobile app.
For more information on workplace injury safety considerations, eligible members can contact Archbright’s Safety Hotline.