The steps for how to handle – and report – a serious injury at work need to be followed to the letter to avoid penalties from the Department of Labour. It is also important because they will help you identify work-related health and safety hazards, risks and dangers (i.e. identify the causes of incidents). It will ensure you put appropriate controls in place to prevent further occurrences of such events.
In other words, you perform an incident investigation to find out:
- what happened,
- why it happened, and
- how to prevent it from happening again.
When should I investigate an incident?
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employer or user of machinery should formally investigate all Section 24 incidents, as well as any other incident where more medical treatment than the normal first aid is required.
Section 24 incidents that should be reported and investigated
When a person:
- becomes unconscious
- suffers the loss of a limb or part of a limb
- is injured or becomes ill, or is likely to die or suffer permanent physical defect
- is unable to work for 14 days or longer because of a work related incident.
Or when a major incident occurs. Based on Sections 1, and 24(a) and (b), the OHS Act defines a major incident as “an occurrence of catastrophic proportions, resulting from the use of plant or machinery, or from activities at a workplace.”
You should also report the following occurrences (where lives are endangered) to the provincial director:
- Dangerous spilled substances
- Uncontrolled release of a substance under pressure
- Flying, falling, uncontrolled moving objects
- Machinery that has run out of control
(Section 24(c), OHS Act)
Step-by-step: How to report an incident
Step #1: Immediately report the incident to the provincial director. You can do this by telephone, fax, or a similar means of communication.
Step #2: You should also submit the WCL 1 or WCL 2 forms to the provincial director within seven days of the incident occurring.
Step #3: If the injured person dies after you have notified the provincial director, you will send a subsequent notice to the provincial director, communicating notification of the death.
How to record and investigate incidents
You should keep a record of all Section 24 incidents and any other incidents where medical treatment or first aid is involved. You need to do this in the form of the prescribed “Annexure 1” form and keep these records for at least three years.
Unless the inspector consents to it, you may not disturb the incident where a person:
- loses a limb or part of a limb
- is likely to die.
You may however:
- remove the injured or dead
- rescue people from danger.
This doesn’t apply to:
- A traffic accident on a public road
- An incident at a private household
- Accidents according to the Aviation Act
Who should perform the investigation?
One of the following people should perform the investigation:
- The employer or user of machinery
- A person appointed by the employer to investigate the incident
- The health and safety representative of the work area
- A member of the health and safety committee
When should the investigation begin?
This should officially start within a period of seven days after the incident has taken place and you should finalise it as soon as is reasonably practicable (or within the contracted period in the case of contracted workers). You must ensure that your record of the incident is examined by your health and safety committee.
What does the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) say?
We know that the MHSA’s regulations can differ from those in the OHS Act. Let’s take a look at the specifics of incident investigation within a mine…
Every manager must:
- conduct an investigation into every
- accident that must be reported in terms of the Act
- serious illness
- health-threatening occurrence
- consult the health and safety committee on investigations
- conduct an investigation (in co-operation with the health and safety representative responsible for the working place where the investigation takes place
- prepare a report (on completion of each investigation) that:
- whenever possible, identifies the causes and the underlying causes (of the accident, serious illness or health-threatening occurrence)
- identifies any unsafe conditions, acts or procedures that contributed in any manner (to the accident, serious illness or health-threatening occurrence)
- makes recommendations to prevent a similar accident, serious illness or health-threatening occurrence
- deliver a copy of the report to the health and safety committee. If there is no health and safety committee, the manager must deliver a copy of the report to the health and safety representative responsible for the working place.
How are Department of Labour (DoL) inspectors involved?
- You can hold your investigation at the same time that an inspector conducts one on behalf of the DoL.
- An inspector can investigate health and safety hazards if the following people or groups request it:
- The Chief Inspector
- A trade union
- A health and safety representative
- A health and safety committee
Who should be notified and when?
Every manager must notify the health and safety representatives concerned. If there is a health and safety committee, the manager must also notify the employee co-chairperson of that committee:
- in good time, of inspections, investigations or inquiries (of which an inspector has notified the manager)
- as soon as practicable, of any accident, serious illness or health-threatening occurrence, or other dangerous event.
Who has a duty to answer questions during an incident investigation?
- If you are questioned during an incident investigation, you must answer every question to the best of your ability. But, you don’t have to answer any question that may be self-incriminating.
- The Chief Inspector is allowed to communicate (in writing) the protection that will be given to anyone questioned during the investigation. Anyone questioned who is under this protection must answer every question to the best of their ability, and may not refuse to answer any question if it is self-incriminating.