The first few hours following a serious safety incident are critical.
As discussed at our recent HR forum in Brisbane, the following matters should be attended to immediately following a serious safety incident:
- making the site safe, which may involve shutting down all or part of the workplace if necessary;
- securing the site of the incident. The person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) should prevent anyone from interfering with the site until the PCBU has the consent of Workplace Health & Safety Queensland (WHSQ). If possible, the PCBU should take photos of the site without engaging in interference. ‘Site’ includes any plant, substance, structure or thing that is associated with the incident. There are criminal penalties for interfering with the site;
- immediately notifying WHSQ by the fastest means possible (usually by telephone or email);
- contacting your lawyers and, where appropriate, establishing legal professional privilege. This should be done as soon as possible. Legal professional privilege means that any documents created for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or for the purpose of the court proceedings cannot be used against the PCBU in court proceedings unless voluntarily provided.;
- notifying the next of kin of any injured worker if appropriate. The police usually notify the next of kin when a fatality has occurred;
- arranging counselling for employees, especially those who may have witnessed or were involved in the incident;
- appointing appropriately skilled personnel to be the contact person for WHSQ, the police, the union and the media;
- establishing a document and record management process and appointing a document controller;
- notifying the relevant insurers; and
- considering the method and content of communications to the workplace about the incident.
There are many things that a PCBU can do now to prepare for a serious safety incident. This includes preparing an incident response plan and training workers in that plan.