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All workplace incidents should be internally reported and properly investigated to ensure steps can be taken to prevent their reoccurrence. Additionally, some incidents must be reported to the appropriate authorities.

To ensure incidents are dealt with correctly and thoroughly, seven critical steps must be followed. These will help you mitigate stress and potential side effects of workplace incidents.

What is an incident?

Incidents include any kind of unplanned event that did or could have resulted in damage to people, environment, property, or your company’s reputation.

Note: An incident occurs whether or not there is an injury. The two words are not interchangeable. That said, you can have both occurring. For example: A fall from a height is an incident, which resulted in an injury such as a fracture or bruising. However, an incident can happen without the consequence of an injury. For example: A worker who is almost struck by a forklift.

What is a Near Hit?

A near hit, also known as a near miss, is an incident that had the potential, but did not result in, damage to people, environment, property and reputation.

What is a notifiable incident?

A notifiable incident is any type of incident that has a legal reporting requirement to a Regulatory Authority such as WorkSafe, WorkCover, Workplace Health & Safety, and EPA.

What is Root Cause Analysis (RCA)?

Root Cause Analysis is a methodical process to evaluate and estimate the risk associated with a particular hazard.

What is a serious incident / injury?

A serious incident is one that results in death or serious injury such as amputation, serious head, eye or spinal injury, separation of skin from tissue, electric shock, loss of bodily function, serious lacerations or exposes people to serious risk, i.e. collapse or partial collapse of a building, fire, explosion, spillage or leakage of dangerous goods, falling objects etc.

The seven critical steps of incident investigation are:

1. Take immediate action

Whenever an incident occurs, appropriate and immediate action should be taken by personnel on the spot (e.g. first aid, firefighting, contain spills, etc.). This also applies to incidents that have not resulted in injuries, where the immediate action should mitigate the risk to personnel.

2. Report the incident

The person directly involved in the incident, or that person’s immediate manager should raise an incident report.

Serious incidents should be immediately reported to the relevant manager as per the site emergency protocols.

In addition, responsible managers should have the authority to suspend work in the affected area, or to suspend similar work, until the investigation has been completed. This is critical if there is a risk of a similar incident occurring.

3. Report to the authorities

Reporting of incidents to the relevant authorities should be as per the applicable statutory requirements.

The following incidents should be reported to the authorities (depending on the specific requirements in each jurisdiction):

  • fatalities
  • injuries requiring hospitalisation
  • any person requiring immediate medical treatment as a result of exposure to chemicals
  • major spills, emissions or any other serious environmental impact (e.g. a site being contaminated by a hazardous contaminant), as specified in the appropriate environmental legislation or the EPA Licence.

In Victoria for example, reportable incidents include:

  • the death of a person
  • a person requiring medical treatment within 48 hours of exposure to a substance
  • a person requiring immediate treatment as an in-patient in a hospital
  • the amputation of any body part
  • a serious head injury
  • a serious eye injury
  • the separation of his or her skin from an underlying tissue (such as de-gloving or scalping)
  • electric shock
  • a spinal injury
  • the loss of a bodily function
  • serious lacerations
  • any other injury to a person or other consequence as specifically prescribed by legislation

In addition, this also includes (in Victoria) any incident that exposes a person in the immediate vicinity to an immediate risk to the person's health or safety through:

  • the collapse, overturning, failure or malfunction of, or damage to, any plant that the regulations prescribe should not be used unless the plant is licensed or registered
  • the collapse or failure of an excavation or of any shoring supporting an excavation
  • the collapse or partial collapse of all or part of a building or structure
  • an implosion, explosion or fire
  • the escape, spillage or leakage of any substance considered a dangerous goods or containing a dangerous good
  • the fall or release from a height of any plant, substance or object
  • any other event or circumstance specifically prescribed by legislation

In some jurisdictions there is a requirement to report not only environmental accidents, but also environmental incidents – i.e. an event or set of circumstances where there was likely to be a leak, spill or other escape of substance to the environment, either on site or with the consequences extending beyond the premises.

The details to be reported to the authorities are specified by each jurisdiction and, if required, on the special forms provided. This may include:

  • an injury to a person (supported by a medical certificate) that results in the person being unfit, for a continuous period of at least 7 days, to attend the person’s usual place of work, to perform his or her usual duties at his or her place of work or, in the case of a non-worker, to carry out his or her usual activities
  • an illness of a person (supported by a medical certificate) that is related to work processes and results in the person being unfit, for a continuous period of at least 7 days, to attend the person’s usual place of work or to perform his or her usual duties at that place of work
  • damage to any plant, equipment, building or structure or anything else that impedes safe operation
  • an uncontrolled explosion or fire
  • an uncontrolled escape of gas, dangerous goods or steam
  • a spill or incident resulting in exposure or potential exposure of a person to a notifiable or prohibited carcinogenic substance
  • removal of workers from lead risk work due to excessive blood lead levels
  • exposure to bodily fluids that presents a risk of transmission of blood-borne diseases
  • the use or threatened use of a weapon that involves a risk of serious injury to, or illness of, a person
  • a robbery that involves a risk of serious injury to, or illness of, a person
  • electric shock that involves a risk of serious injury to a person

Any other incident that involves a risk of:

  • explosion or fire
  • escape of gas, dangerous goods or steam
  • serious injury to, or illness of, a person
  • substantial property damage

In addition to the normal statutory reporting (i.e. to the occupational health and safety authority) in jurisdictions where this is required, accidents which relate to specific work areas (e.g. accidents related to electricity), should be reported to the particular authority dealing with this area (e.g. the accident should be reported to the state’s Chief Electrical Inspector, etc.)

For the purpose of reporting and investigating, maritime incidents should include occurrences, as follows:

  • the death or serious injury of a person on board
  • the death or serious injury of a person caused by a vessel
  • the loss overboard or presumed loss overboard of a person
  • the loss or presumed loss of a vessel (whether from sinking, structural failure, explosion or fire or otherwise)
  • the abandonment of a vessel
  • theft, hijacking or suspicious disappearance
  • the collision or near collision of a vessel with another, or any object
  • grounding or stranding
  • flooding or swamping
  • capsizing or complete roll-over
  • a loss of stability affecting the safety of a vessel (whether from shifting cargo or ballast or other causes);
  • a loss of steerage or propulsion
  • the disablement of a vessel to such extent that it requires assistance
  • a structural failure in the hull or superstructure
  • damage caused to or by a vessel
  • a fire, explosion or dangerous substances emergency
  • the loss overboard of a shipping container or other major item or quantity of cargo from a commercial vessel.

Notification should be by means, as required by the authority (e.g. phone, email, web-based on-line form, etc.). Records should be kept for at least five years (or as specifically required in each jurisdiction) of:

  • details of the incident
  • details of the notification
  • records of acknowledgements of the notification

4. Investigate and develop corrective actions

All incidents should be investigated. During the investigation, an analysis should be carried out to identify any WHS Management System failures. This would involve an examination of the incident along the following lines:

  • Is there a procedure, which covers this area of activity?
  • Is the procedure adequate? (I.e. effective, workable, comprehensive, simple, easy to use, etc.)
  • Was the procedure properly implemented?
  • Was the procedure followed?

The objective of the investigation should be to establish the real cause(s) of the incident, so that corrective action is aimed at preventing recurrence of the event. A Corrective Action Note should be raised.

The scope and impact of the corrective action taken should be appropriate to the magnitude and potential for harm of the incident.

5. Calculate the costs

The cost (or potential cost) of an incident may be calculated as part of the investigation and included in the final report. This may include both direct costs and indirect costs.

6. Conduct a root cause analysis

Root cause analysis (RCA) should be carried out for all incidents. The objective of RCA is to identify underlying problems in systems of work or management systems.

7. Record the details

Records of all incident notification, reporting, investigation and corrective actions should be kept. Where applicable, records should be kept for the appropriate duration, as required by legislation.

General advice warning

The information on this site is of a general nature only. It does not take your specific needs or circumstances into consideration. You should look at your own situation and requirements before making any decisions.

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