What would happen if there was a fatality on one of my sites? That is probably a question that has kept many company owners awake at night. We’ve all seen the news reports of the unfortunate families and companies that do have the misfortune of knowing what happens. The number of fatalities accepted by WCB Alberta per year has increased significantly over the last 3 years. It has risen from 25 in 2015, to 26 in 2016, to 34 in 2017.
Common Types of Fatalities Investigated by OHS include falls, struck by objects, caught by/in between objects, transportation incidents, exposure to harmful substances, motor vehicle accidents, and occupational disease fatalities.
But is there a way to prevent a fatality from occurring on your worksite? What happens in the event of a fatality? What does the process look like?
A Preventable Fatality
It’s a tragic fact that many workplace fatalities could have been prevented. On September 25, 2017, a worker was killed in Spruce Grove, AB, in a construction incident involving a skid-steer. The 38 year old equipment operator was employed with a concrete company and was working at a housing development when the incident occurred. At approximately 1:15 pm, the worker was operating the skid-steer and for whatever reason they put their head outside the cab of the machine while the bucket was lifted and at that moment the bucket came down and decapitated him. The operator was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of the incident was determined to be that the operator had removed the side window from the skid-steer which allowed the worker to be able to stick their head outside of the cab while the machine was in operation. While this was a tragic, horrible incident, it is one that could have been prevented. Safe guards, in this case it was the side window, are there for a purpose and the purpose is to help keep the worker safe from the hazards associated with the work they are performing. Although it may be easier to remove some safeguards and it may save you some time, it may also cost you your life.
OHS Investigation Process
Once a fatality, or a serious incident, has been reported, an OHS investigator and applicable emergency services will be dispatched to the scene. If workers are attempting rescue, ensure the hazard has been removed from the incident scene prior to attempting rescue. All efforts will be given by emergency responders to save the life of the individual(s). However, if the rescue attempts are unsuccessful, the scene will be frozen to prevent evidence from being disturbed. Once the scene has been frozen, no evidence can be moved or touched with the exception of the following circumstances: you have to attend to someone that has been injured or killed; you need to take actions to prevent further injuries; you have to protect property that is endangered because of the incident; or you have been given permission by OHS or a peace officer to do so. After the scene has been frozen and barricaded, the investigation of the worksite will take place. The investigator has the authority to do any of the following:
- question anyone present at the site that may have witnessed the incident, they may ask any question to determine the causes and circumstances of the incident;
- seize or take samples of any substance, material, tool, product, appliance or equipment that was present at, involved in, or related to the incident;
- stop all or some of the activities at the worksite.
Once the investigator(s) have completed their investigation of the worksite, OHS will prepare an investigation report that will summarize the incident. Then OHS will conduct an Enforcement Action review of the investigation to determine if the incident should be submitted to Alberta Justice for consideration of prosecution. At that point, the file will be reviewed by Alberta Justice and charges will be laid if there’s a likelihood of conviction. Documentation must be kept for a minimum of 3 years to ensure that it is available in the event of an incident, as OHS will review all documentation that they determine to be applicable to their investigation.
If Charges are Laid
Charges can be laid against the employers, the supervisors, workers, contractors, prime contractors and/or suppliers. If Alberta Justice deems that it is appropriate to lay charges, the defendant can either be found guilty, be acquitted, or have the charges withdrawn or stayed.
If the defendant is found guilty, the punishment for a first time offence can include a fine of up to $500,000.00 and/or up to 6 months in prison per violation. In the event that the defendant continues the first offence, they can also receive an extra fine of up to $30,000.00 per day.
OHS convictions can also include creative sentencing which uses funds that would otherwise be paid as fines and allots them to third parties that promote occupational health and safety. Some examples include training programs, resource centres and rescue societies. Having a fatality occur on a worksite has a major impact on many different aspects. It affects the family and friends of the deceased, it affects the other workers on site, and affects the overall company and its ability to operate in the community. Companies that have experienced a fatality are often viewed as having a black mark on their reputation and this can lead to loss of contracts and future work. These are only some of the reasons that it is vital to have an effective health and safety management system. Focusing on working safe and mitigating hazards is an effective way to minimize worker injury and loss of life.
For more information on how to prevent workplace injuries or for information on having a health and safety management program developed for your company, please contact us at Safety Ahead. It would our pleasure to help you ensure the safety of your most precious resource, your employees.
Global News Edmonton