The top 5 things employers need to know if a worker is injured at work
Accidents happen all the time, in all areas of our busy lives and for all kinds of reasons. But they are particularly emotive and stressful when they result in an injury to one of your workers.
As experienced advocates within the Queensland workers’ compensation scheme who are often engaged by employers to help them manage after a workplace accident, we’ve put together a list of what we consider to be the 5 most important things employers need to know after a workplace accident occurs.
1. Consider the need to notify Workplace Health and Safety
In some circumstances you are legally required to notify Workplace Health and Safety Queensland about accidents occurring in the workplace. This occurs when accidents are defined as “serious” under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). Serious workplace accidents include:
- Accidents resulting in the death of a worker;
- Accidents which cause serious injury or serious illness to a worker; and
- Dangerous incidents.
Accidents causing serious injury or illness are broadly defined to include situations where the injured worker requires immediate treatment as an in-patient in hospital; or immediate treatment for an amputation, serious head, eye or burn injury; de-gloving or scalping injury; back injury; the loss of a bodily function; serious laceration; an infection where the significant contributing factor is reliably attributed to work and a number of diseases transmitted to humans as a result of handling or contact with animals.
Dangerous incidents are also broadly defined and cover substance spills, explosion and fire, electric shocks, falls from height, structural collapses and the overturning, failure or malfunction of plant.
After being notified, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland may investigate the incident. This can include requiring the site to be quarantined and not disturbed, attending the site, taking statements and obtaining supportive documentation. Or it may simply record being notified of the incident. Ultimately, its response will depend on the severity and ongoing risks associated with what has occurred.
2. Investigate what happened
In the aftermath of an accident, and in circumstances where there is no immediate Workplace Health and Safety investigation, it can be easy to neglect undertaking proper investigations into what happened and why. Investigations are time consuming and disruptive and in reality, they are not needed in response to all workplace accidents. But there are always situations where businesses wish they had undertaken more thorough investigations while the evidence was available. This may be because of the nature of the accident, the task being undertaken, the people involved, the likelihood it will result in a compensation claim, the subsequent loss of key people or just a feeling you had that it may be needed.
Of course, the extent of investigations undertaken should be varied to fit the circumstances. For example, a detailed investigation into the cause of a cut finger which resulted in the worker having little or no time of work would rarely be warranted. On the other hand, you don’t want to miss key information when it is clear an investigation should be undertaken. This is why it’s handy to have a standard investigation checklist or policy for an onsite manager to work through after an accident occurs to trigger the types of investigations that should be considered. Generally, investigations should include:
- An incident report form – if possible, with the worker detailing how the accident occurred in their own words;
- Photographs of the accident site and any relevant equipment;
- Details of any witnesses to the accident including their names, contact details and if possible their notes on what they saw;
- If appropriate, details of the site layout and who was on site (even other businesses) at the time and where;
- If the accident involved a piece of equipment, consider if that equipment can be isolated and kept for later investigations but always keep details of the make, model and identifying features;
- Details of any follow up testing or investigation into the cause of the accident;
- If relevant, maintenance records, training and induction details, job details and other related records.
Gathering this information and keeping these records together shortly after an accident occurs will always assist if a claim is made later as invariably, by the time this occurs at a much later date, key people have often moved on, the job has finished, records have been stored and any undocumented evidence is lost.
3. Be heard and know your rights
Workers injured at work are entitled to access workers’ compensation benefits if they can show they were a “worker” as defined under the Workers’ Compensation & Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) and they sustained an injury at work. If you are concerned the injury was not work related, that is, it was sustained outside of work, you should let WorkCover Queensland know when they first contact you.
Of course, evidence that the injury is not work related is required and this evidence will be assessed on its merits. This means it needs to be more than a theory. You will need to be able to show the injury occurred away from work. This might be through statements from co-workers, CCTV footage or online sources. If you know an injury did not occur at work, it should be raised before a claim is accepted and if necessary, you can seek a review of a decision to accept a claim.
4. Provide support
Workplace accidents and any resulting claim are stressful, emotional times for both employers and injured workers. They can cause financial strain on both parties and the adversarial nature of a claim, which focusses on blame in order for the claim to eventually succeed, can irreparably damage what was otherwise a strong employment relationship.
The premises behind workers’ compensation is to return an injured worker to the position they would be in, if not for the accident. As a last resort, this occurs through financial compensation and is most significantly associated with a worker not returning to work.
Research shows workers who feel less supported by their employers after sustaining an injury and during the workers’ compensation process are more likely to bring a common law claim. Similarly, the longer a claim remains open, the more expensive it is likely to be.
There is a lesson here. By maintaining contact with an injured worker, assisting them where possible to navigate the claim process and then return to work, whether in a normal pre-accident or modified capacity, the claim is less likely to transgress into a common law damages claim.
5. Prevention is always the best option
Almost all accidents take place because of human distraction. While there is no doubt that we learn from them and take steps to make sure they don’t happen again, the reality is that everyone would be better off if accidents did not occur.
Hindsight would be a fantastic superpower, but unless your blessed with the ability to travel back in time and stop an accident before it happens, take the time now to look around your worksite and talk to internal and external people about how jobs are being done and how they can be performed better and more safely.
Make sure your work systems are documented and known to all. Know the Codes of Practice that apply to your business, use the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland website for general information and be prepared to reach out for assistance from those around you – through workplace health and safety consultants, industry forums, inspectors within Workplace Health and Safety or – dare I say it – lawyers with experience in the area.
At Hughes & Lewis Legal, we’re here to help you.