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How to be prepared for a health and safety incident

The success of an OH&SMS (Operational Health and Safety Management System) is normally measured by its ability to prevent incidents and accidents; however, in the real world both unfortunately do happen from time to time. What then becomes critical is how people react to an incident, and the strength of the process that an organization has established to prevent reoccurrence of such an incident. So, what processes, procedures, and rules need to be put in place to ensure that employee reaction to an accident is sufficient and appropriate, and to provide a foundation for investigation and improvement, and what elements of OHSAS 18001 can help us to achieve this? And, on top of this, what advice and training can the employees be given on how to act when an incident does occur?

Incident reaction – What do you need from your employees?

If you have had to deal with the aftermath and investigation of an incident in the workplace, you will be aware that there is information you need to gather from the person/people involved and witnesses to ensure that your outcome can include a meaningful and accurate corrective action that prevents reoccurrence. That all sounds straightforward, but what exactly does the organization need to achieve that, and what measures need to be taken to ensure that the outcome is satisfactory? As part of the investigation into an incident, an incident report will normally be compiled by whoever is responsible for the OH&SMS. This incident report may differ from one organization to another, but keeping records to support action and improvement is good practice, and therefore is wise to do. So, given that it is understood that this information-gathering process is mandatory when an incident occurs, what preparation can we do to ensure that our staff have the necessary knowledge to participate fully?

  • Participation – In a previous article, How to satisfy participation and consultation requirements in ISO 45001, we considered how the elements of participation and consultation improved the performance of an OH&SMS, if applied correctly amongst the workforce. If your workforce truly participate in an organization’s provision of health and safety, they will truly understand the importance of gathering information accurately in the wake of an incident as a vital element of an investigation that will ultimately help ensure there is no reoccurrence.
  • Communication – In the article Case study: Health and safety communication compliant with OHSAS 18001 we looked at the importance of communication. This is closely related to the participation and consultation elements of the standard, in the sense that good communication can empower employees and ensure that participation and consultation can truly take place by having the correct information constantly available through the correct channels. Again, if you are really seeking to build a culture of health and safety within your organization, good communication can continually reinforce its importance and prepare your employees to recognize the importance of information gathering in the wake of an incident.
  • Training and awareness – In The importance of training and awareness in OHSAS 18001 we considered the impact that having properly knowledgeable and trained staff could have on the OH&SMS. This is particularly relevant in recognizing supporting information in the wake of an incident. Trained staff are more likely to not only be able to record and recognize information that may be relevant to an incident, but also recognize other circumstances that help with assessment of risk and further identification of hazards. This last element can prove to be a critical difference between staff who are properly trained and aware, and those who are not, and can bring significant benefit to the OH&SMS.
  • Exercise your emergency plan and rehearse – Making sure everyone is aware of what to do, how to behave, and reporting methods in the event of an incident will ensure that your employees are prepared and that your OH&SMS benefits from having the correct information made available.

Preparing your staff for an incident

We can therefore see that there are several vital elements that we can ensure exist to prepare employees for what is needed in the event of an incident. For example, it is highly desirable in most organizations that some of the employees will have undertaken formal first aid training, and passed some of that experience and knowledge on to colleagues. As an organization that runs an OH&SMS, it will also be helpful if your training program provides advice on how to react, whom to contact, and what action to take in the event of an accident or incident. This will also increase the preparedness of the people within your organization to deal with an incident calmly and sensibly, and to collect relevant information in the aftermath. Importantly, this will allow you to give your staff guidance on how to act and behave in the event of an incident, which should be in a calm, controlled, and organized manner. With health and safety – as with most things – knowledge, preparation, and rehearsal are key and can ensure that your team is prepared for all eventualities. No organization enjoys dealing with incidents or accidents, but the better you prepare for this likelihood, the more effective you will become at preventing them in the long run.

Why not use our free  Gap Analysis Tool to measure your OH&SMS readiness to handle incidents?

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.