Workplace Accidents – What do I need to know?

When it comes to managing health and safety, we know accidents happen. A zero-harm policy, while ideal, is generally very difficult to achieve. However, that said, no-one wants to be negligent which leads to someone getting hurt. So, this leads to the questions;

• what is your responsibility as an employer when it comes to accidents/near misses?
• where does personal responsibility of employees come in to play?

First, let’s be frank and get our heads around the things that cause accidents – carelessness and hazards.

Carelessness is challenging to manage, people become careless when there is no health and safety culture or process to keep them in check. Process and culture are not intended to be the wet blanket; you still want people to have fun at work and enjoy what they do, just not at the expense of people’s safety. Your responsibility as an employer is to put as many barriers in the way of accidents as possible to prevent people getting hurt. Seems simple right? That’s because it is! Barriers are called controls and the things that cause accidents are called Hazards. Controls could be in the form of training, protective equipment, procedures, supervision etc. It’s all about managing the things that hurt people.

So where do you draw the line?

When it comes to protecting people from hazards, you have the primary responsibility do make sure all hazards have appropriate controls and that your people are aware of any procedures they have to follow. The good news is that the onus isn’t all on you, your staff are responsible for protecting themselves and others from harm too – and they can be held accountable if they don’t!

So what happens when things goes wrong? What are you obliged to do?
Here is the deal. When someone hurts themselves you have a legal obligation to make a record of the accident. Yes, even if it’s a minor scrape. This is just a simple entry in your accident register. If it’s more serious, you will need to investigate what went wrong to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
When someone nearly hurts themselves but luckily don’t, you have an obligation to record this too. Now, we know this seems over-kill but there is a good reason so, let me tell you why. Let’s say Johnny was operating a machine which isn’t well guarded. While operating the machine, he slips and nearly loses his fingers. If Johnny doesn’t report this, then no-one will know, the machine will not be guarded and it will be a matterof time before someone really hurts themselves.

So, when do you have to notify WorkSafe of an accident and will they penalise you for reporting it?
The answer is a complex one as there are a number of situations where you are required to report accidents to WorkSafe depending on the circumstances. You can see the details and examples here on the website. A good rule of thumb would be if someone breaks a bone, loses a body part or consciousness, requires hospitalisation then you have to report it. WorkSafe will not penalise you for reporting an incident, however, you will be in hot water if you didn’t and they find out later. Honesty is always the best policy.

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