Despite sometimes robust safety programs, some construction industry employers are still not prepared to deal with a serious worksite injury or fatality.
The initial response needs to be pre-planned and practiced.
“The idea is minimize thinking under stress,” said Jeff Lyth with QSP Leadership, who was co-presenting a workshop, When the Unthinkable Happens: Dealing with a Fatality or Serious Injury at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association’s Construction Learning Forum in Whistler, B.C.
He said that the first thing you must do is secure the scene and make sure no one else is in danger.
It’s important to not move or disturb anything at the scene, he added, with the exception being to prevent further harm.
Once the scene is secure, he said the next step is to start gathering evidence and take photos.
Witnesses need to be identified and separated from each other to obtain their statements before they start talking amongst themselves.
He said that it’s possible that the worker’s recollections could change as they converse with each other.
For all serious injuries and fatalities, WorkSafeBC will dispatch investigators to the scene.
Lyth addressed how best to deal with these occupational health and safety authority officials.
He also said that someone must accompany the inspector during the investigation and that they must take photos of everything the inspectors take photos of.
Witnesses and coworkers will be interviewed by WorkSafeBC.
Lyth stressed that no one must ever lie during the interviews and they must answer all questions honestly and completely.
However, he said, it’s a good idea to keep answers short and to the point, and to not offer information that isn’t asked for.
He said that self incrimination can be a concern, but that it’s a fine line to walk as you must be completely truthful and not impede the investigation in any way.
Lyth also explained why it’s important to have a plan in place for contacting family members.
This will help during the stress of the severe incident as there will be an established game plan to follow.
For that call, he said to stick to the facts, but offer personal support.
Lyth also said to tell them an incident has occurred, but don’t share the condition of the injured worker, as an initial medical assessment may no longer be accurate.
He said to tell the family members where they need to go, who they need to talk to and who will meet them there.
Of course, this plan includes ensuring someone is at the hospital to meet the family.
After securing the scene, dealing with WorkSafeBC and the family of the injured or deceased worker, employers may still have to deal with the media.
Lyth shared some tips and discussed how public sentiment can turn to resentment based on a company’s perceived response to a serious incident and how that can tarnish its reputation.
He said not to allow any news media on site and added that there needs to be a security perimeter established to control access for only authorized persons.
He said that the only media statements about an incident should be made by a senior company representative.
Both Lyth and workshop co-presenter John van Dyk with Canadian Cutting and Coring Ltd. said that the initial response is extremely important and must be considered before something serious happens.
However, additional repercussions from the incident can take a while to appear. Lyth said these extra issues can take weeks to show up.
Post-traumatic symptoms are not always readily apparent, but need to be dealt with in a caring and compassionate way.
Lastly, the presenters addressed the evolving landscape for differences between occupational health and safety, and criminal investigations.
Recently, a WorkSafeBC report for a nearly two year old fatality and severe injury incident in Burnaby, B.C. was passed to the RCMP for possible criminal investigation under Section 217.1 under the Criminal Code of Canada.
This incident could buck the trend of criminal charges only being laid if a criminal investigation is launched at the time that the incident occurred.
Lyth said they are monitoring the situation closely and will report back to the industry as the issue evolves.