Many employers aren’t prepared if there is a workplace accident that results in injury to an employee – both in terms of how to respond and plan internally and how to comply with the laws and regulations that employers must follow.
Picture this: You are a senior manager for medium sized manufacturing company. It is Monday morning and you have just settled into your weekly management meeting. Suddenly, you hear a large “bang”. At first you think nothing of it, just the usual sounds from the shop floor. However, five minutes later, your floor supervisor comes into the room and says, “there’s been an accident and John has been hurt.” There is panic in the room and everyone is looking to you to figure out what to do.
So, do you know what to do?
When there is a workplace accident, there is a legal obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to notify:
- The workplace health and safety rep or joint health and safety committee; and
- The Ministry of Labour.
The timing of the notice varies depending on the extent of the injury but for fatalities or “critical injuries” (such as a fracture or serious loss of blood) the legislation requires that employers IMMEDIATELY notify the Ministry of Labour and provide details of the accident, machinery involved, time and location and the names and addresses of those injured and those who witnessed the accident.
In addition to this duty to notify, in the event of a “critical injury”, subject to some limited exceptions, employers must “preserve the scene”. In other words, employers must not interfere with or disturb anything connected with the scene of the accident until given permission to do so by the Ministry of Labour.
It is important to note that the duty to notify the Ministry of Labour is not just for accidents involving employees. Recent court cases have confirmed that this duty applies to any person at the workplace (whether that be a customer, supplier, employee or otherwise) as long as there is a connection or “nexus” between the accident and worker safety.
Once the Ministry of Labour has been notified, employers can expect a visit from an inspector. An inspector has extremely broad powers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to attend the premises, collect documents, take pictures and order the employer to create or review policies, test or fix machinery or even halt production (this is called a “stop work order”). A visit from an inspector could result in charges being laid against the employer (or even individual supervisors or workers) under the Provincial Offences Act. So, besides understanding what to do in the immediate aftermath of an accident, it is vital that employers get legal representation to advise on how to deal with the inspector and to strategize for potential charges.
While accidents are unavoidable sometimes, being prepared is something that all employers can do. This is not only important in ensuring the safety and well-being of staff, but it is critical in avoiding costly penalties and charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which could be as high as $500,000.