Investigating and reporting health and safety accidents – how to do it

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Every employer has a legal, moral and financial obligation to ensure that their workplace is as safe as reasonably practicable. However despite organisations having thorough and robust management systems in place to mitigate incidents, accidents do sometimes occur.

What is an accident?

An accident is essentially an event that results in an injury or loss. However, this is not to be confused with a near miss, which is when an incident has occurred that highlights the potential for a negative outcome in the future, but it initially resulted in no injury or loss – e.g. items falling off a shelf onto the floor.

For significant incidents, an investigation into an accident or near miss may be required to focus on the failure of the current control systems that initially led to the accident or near miss from occurring in the first place.

Importantly, any less significant accidents or near misses that occur should not be dismissed, as these too need to be looked at to ensure that there are robust control measures in place to prevent them from becoming a serious incident in the future.

Accidents can be extremely expensive

As soon as an accident commences there are a range of costs that can come as a result, these include:

  • The downtime of the injured person and possibly the costs of bringing in temporary cover for them.
  • Losses in equipment, plant or property damage following the accident.
  • Insurance premiums can be negatively affected by poor accident trends and failure to properly assess risk and control hazards.
  • If the incident involves the HSE, Fees For Intervention may also apply which are currently charged at £154 per hour – when a legal breach has been identified.
  • Recent new sentencing guidelines for the courts have significantly increased the level of fines imposed.
  • A civil claim may be brought against an organisation or individual that may result in large sums being awarded to any injured party. It is important to remember that for a claimant to be successful they must be able to prove the following three things:
  1. There was a duty of care owed by the employer.
  2. That the duty of care was breached.
  3. The breach led to the resulting injury.

Investigating an accident

Once any incident has occurred it is vital that the scene is preserved so that sufficient evidence can be gathered. To aid this, photographs, and plenty of them should be taken.

As part of the investigatory process it is crucial that you allow as few people as possible into the incident area. Why? This is so that any evidence can be preserved. However, in cases that are of a more serious in nature, the authorities may close the scene themselves and will only allow work to re-continue once all of the evidence has been secured and the risks minimised.

There is no doubt that for any business, this disruption will be costly, therefore to reduce the impact of this, make sure that you have a procedure for the control of accident scenes built into your accident investigation process.

Reporting of incidents – how this should be done

The reporting of any accident should follow the following systemic model.

  1. The accident should first be reported internally to the supervisors and/or managers of the department where the incident has occurred. This is to ensure that all of the employees that have been involved, can be interviewed when appropriate.
  2. The next stage is to report the incident to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as part of the Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations (RIDDOR) – this is free to download on the HSE website.
  3. You must also inform your business’ insurers, as they will need to be prepared for any potential claims against the company’s policy.
  4. The final part is the most important. Communications. The communications between the organisation and the family of the injured party must be handled in a structured way. This must be done by senior representatives within the business, or the HR department to ensure that any information passed on is accurate.

It is important to note that all of the above steps should be recorded as part of the accident investigation process to explain who did what and when.

Starting the investigation

  • Upon starting any investigation it is important to assemble a suitable team to conduct this. The size and composition of the team is likely to be different for every accident, however the following individuals should be considered:
  • The injured party and any witnesses to the incident.
  • An individual familiar with the workplace environment in which the incident occurred, as they may hold information that could be significant during the investigation.
  • The supervisor and/or manager of the department/area where the incident occurred.
  • Safety representatives that are either union appointed or non-union appointed.
  • A member of the HR team.
  • A health and safety expert.
  • A senior management representative who has the authority to make decisions there and then.
  • A technical expert that can discuss any equipment, substance or process that may have contributed to the incident.

Gathering evidence

Once the investigation team has been set up, the process of gathering information will then need to begin, which will include:

  • Physical evidence, e.g. marks on the ground, taking measurements of equipment and the accident scene etc.
  • Human evidence, which includes statements from injured parties and witnesses that saw the incident.
  • Documentary evidence, for instance risk assessments and safe systems of work that relate to the activities being undertaken at the time of the incident.

Finally…

Once the incident has been concluded, it is crucial that you are transparent and share the findings with your employees that were involved with the incident. You should also take the necessary steps if anything has come to light that needs to be addressed – e.g. reviewing a risk assessment or providing additional training to staff.

However, the most important thing that you should do is to have a plan in place before an accident, so that if one does happen, everybody knows exactly what to do without delay.

How Pennington Choices can help…

At Pennington Choices we have over 15 years’ experience in providing occupational health and safety services to clients of all sizes across a range of sectors including; property, healthcare and sports and leisure. We know what good looks like, and our clients can support this.

Our expert and qualified Health and Safety Consultants can assist you by acting as your competent person to ensure that you are complying with The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, 1999, and to ensure that you have robust safety management systems in place.

How can I get in touch to find out more?

If you would like to find out more about our competent advice service, you can do so by getting in touch with our experts today. This can be done either by email or by calling 0800 883 0334.

You can also find out what your organisation’s current health and safety position is by downloading our FREE health and safety self-assessment here.

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