What Kinds of Workplace Incidents Must You Report?
The primary goal of every safety coordinator is to prevent workplace incidents, injuries and illnesses. But they can still happen despite your best efforts to prevent them. And when they do, your focus must switch to damage control. The immediate need is to ensure that the victims receive the appropriate medical treatment and to secure the incident scene so you can investigate what went wrong and determine what steps to take to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. But there’s something else you may also have to do as part of your response strategy: promptly report the incident to the appropriate government officials.
Unfortunately, many companies and safety coordinators aren’t familiar with their incident reporting obligations. As a result, they make mistakes that expose the company to the risk of prosecution, fines and other penalties. This article is designed to help you avoid liability for incident reporting violations. We’ll tell you what types of safety incidents the OHS laws require employers to report. We’ll also tell you how quickly you must report such incidents, to whom you must give the report and what information the report should include.
Defining Our Terms
We are aware of the controversy in the safety profession over the uses of the terms “incident” and “accident.” Although there are merits to both arguments, the Insider’s policy is to use the word “incident.” Accordingly, in this article, we use the term “incident” to refer to any breakdown in the OHS system, including, but not limited to, those in which a worker or other person at the workplace suffers an illness or injury. So, for example, an incident can include the collapse of a pile of material or the mechanical failure of a piece of equipment in which nobody is injured. However, we also want to note that many provinces use the term “accident” in their OHS laws.
The term “reporting” in this story refers to the obligation to report an incident to a governmental authority, such as the OHS regulatory agency. The article doesn’t address employers’ obligation to report incidents to non-governmental groups, such as the JHSC, the union or an insurance company. Nor does it address employers’ legal duty to report injuries or illnesses to the province’s workers’ compensation board. The Insider will tackle that topic in a future issue.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
Incident reporting is important because it allows government officials to monitor companies’ safety performance and enforce the laws against violators more effectively. It also lets government track the types and frequency of incidents to identify patterns and determine the need for additional regulation, guidelines on how to comply with current regulations or stepped-up enforcement. Consequently, every province’s and territory’s OHS law requires employers to report some types of incidents to government authorities. In general, incident reporting obligations are contained in one of three places:
1. The OHS Act
Six jurisdictions—AB, NB, NS, PEI, QC and YT—include incident reporting requirements in their OHS acts. The obligation to report incidents is usually covered in the same section that requires an investigation to be conducted after an incident occurs. For example, Sec. 30 (Injuries and Accidents) of the Yukon OHS Act:
- Defines “serious accident” and “serious injury”;
- Requires employers to report serious accidents and injuries;
- Bars anyone from disturbing an accident scene except to save a life, relieve suffering or preserve property; and
- Specifies how the accident or injury will be investigated.
2. The OHS Regulations
Five jurisdictions—Fed, MB, NT, NU and SK—cover incident reporting requirements within their OHS regulations. As in the OHS acts, the incident reporting obligations are in the same section of the regulation that addresses incident investigations. For example, Part XV of the federal Canada OHS Regs. covers hazardous occurrence investigation, recording and reporting. And the “Serious Incidents at Workplace” section of Manitoba’s Workplace Safety and Health Regs. covers:
- Definition of “serious incident”;
- Notice of serious incidents;
- Preservation of the incident scene; and
- Investigation of serious incidents.
3. Both Act and Regulations
The remaining three jurisdictions—BC, NL and ON—include incident reporting requirements in both their OHS acts and the related regulations:
- BC sets out basic incident reporting requirements in Division 10 of the Workers’ Compensation Act. It also has a separate regulation under that Act devoted to injury reporting requirements [Reports of Injuries Reg.].
- NL describes the general types of incidents that must be reported in Sec. 54 of the OHS Act but also includes requirements in the OHS Regs. covering the reporting of blasting incidents and incidents involving explosives.
- ON specifies the types of incidents that must be reported in Part VII of its OHS Act. Industry-specific regulations under the OHS law, such as the Industrial Establishment Regs., then spell out what information employers must include in their incident reports and how long they must retain such reports.
Insider Says: Some jurisdictions have additional incident reporting requirements for specific industries or types of workplaces. For example, Alberta has additional incident reporting requirements for mines. And in Manitoba, medical workplaces have special reporting requirements for needlestick injuries.
HOW TO COMPLY
How do you comply with incident reporting requirements? Although the specifics vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, in general, you must take four steps when an incident occurs:
Step #1: Determine If Incident Must Be Reported
Not every incident must be reported. In general, employers must report:
Incidents in which a person is killed or seriously injured. Every jurisdiction requires employers to report incidents involving fatalities. Some limit this requirement to incidents involving a worker’s death; others broaden the requirement to include the reporting of the death of any person. All jurisdictions also require employers to report incidents involving serious injuries. The jurisdictions either designate the specific kinds of injuries that must be reported or generally state that “serious injuries” must be reported and then provide a separate definition of “serious injury.” In either case, the types of injuries that typically have to be reported include those involving:
- Loss of limb;
- Substantial loss of blood;
- Amputation of a member or limb, such as a leg, arm, hand or foot;
- Burn to a major portion of the body;
- Internal bleeding;
- Poisoning or asphyxiation;
- Permanent impairment of a bodily function, such as temporary or permanent blindness;
- Injuries caused by electrical shocks; and
- Occupational illnesses.
Designated kinds of serious incidents. There are also certain kinds of incidents that are considered so serious that employers must report them any time they occur—even if the actual incident doesn’t result in any injuries or illnesses. Such incidents include those involving:
- Structural failures or collapses of buildings, structures, platforms, cranes and other hoisting devices;
- Spills or releases of hazardous substances;
- Electrical shocks; and
- Failures of atmosphere-supplying respirators.
Step #2: Report by Deadline
Once you’ve determined that the incident must be reported, make sure that you report it by the deadline spelled out in the OHS laws. In most jurisdictions, employers must report incidents either immediately or as soon as possible and typically no later than 24 hours. But deadlines may vary in some jurisdictions depending on the type or severity of the incident and/or injury. For example, in NT and NU, employers must immediately report incidents involving a worker’s death and report incidents of a serious nature within 24 hours.
Step #3: Report Incident to Proper Authority
Employers must generally report safety incidents to a government safety official, such as a health and safety officer, director or deputy safety minister. Some jurisdictions, such as BC, NB and QC, require employers to report incidents to the workers’ compensation board or commission, which regulates workplace safety in the province.
Step #4: Include Required Information in Report
Include whatever information the law requires in your incident report. Caveat: Some jurisdictions don’t spell out exactly what information to include in an incident report. So what should you do if your company is located in one of those jurisdictions? Look at the requirements for jurisdictions that specifically address the content of incident reports. Although you’re not obligated to comply with their requirements, it’s likely that the information they require employers to provide will be the same information government safety officials in your jurisdiction will ask for when you report an incident. Ontario’s Industrial Establishment Regs. provide a good guide for the information you should be prepared to provide in an incident report:
- The employer’s name and address;
- The nature and circumstances of the incident and any injuries;
- The time and place of the incident;
- A description of the machinery or equipment involved;
- The name and address of anyone injured or killed;
- The names and addresses of all witnesses; and
- The name and address of the doctor, if any, who tended to the wounded.
Don’t volunteer information that you’re not required to include. Why? Because the information in the incident report could be used against the company in a prosecution for OHS violations. So don’t, for example, speculate on the cause of the incident or admit or assign blame for any failure or wrongdoing. (For more information on how to keep incriminating information out of incident reports, click here.)
Insider Says: Some jurisdictions have detailed requirements on the form of incident reports, such as whether they should be oral or written. You should generally report the incident to the appropriate officials by the fastest means possible, such as telephone. You may also be required to follow up with a written report.
When an incident occurs, the first thought that flashes into your mind is unlikely to be: “Gosh, I have to call government safety officials to let them know what happened.” You’ll obviously be focused on more urgent concerns, such as controlling and minimizing the damage done, getting medical attention for anyone who’s been injured, etc. And rightly so. But you can’t shirk your duty to report the incident to the appropriate government officials. If you do, you’ll expose the company to a possible OHS violation—and that’s in addition to any violations it may already face because of the incident itself.