The purpose of accident investigation is to establish how an accident happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. If you are a safety representative, you may, at some point, be asked to assist an employee who has been injured in the workplace and/or participate in accident investigation.
Under the Safety Representative and Safety Committees Regulations 1977, representatives have the right to carry out an accident inspection where it is 'reasonably practicable' for them to do so. In addition to the reporting of any notifiable incidents, if you are called upon to carry out a safety inspection, remember the following five steps.
1. Ensure that the injured employee has received appropriate medical attention
They should not be rushed back to work or into making a statement if they are not yet well enough.
2. Get to the scene of the accident as soon as you can
Try to ensure that the scene of the accident is not disturbed before you have had an opportunity to carry out an investigation.
Ideally the area should be cordoned off. It is acceptable for the employer to move anything that hampers a rescue attempt, or which may cause further accidents. If anything has been moved by the time you arrive on the scene, make a note of this.
3. Gather visual evidence to establish exactly what happened
Photographs, sketches and measurements of the scene of the incident can be vital in establishing the facts. As a safety representative, you are empowered to perform periodic inspections and to investigate notifiable accidents and dangerous occurrences.
Try to photograph the scene of the incident before anything is touched. A picture taken at eye level may show up any restrictions to vision. If the incident has occurred out of doors, take photographs straight away, as the weather can change quickly.
When the incident has involved furniture or equipment, photographs of broken, fractured or failed items are important. Where pieces are broken, place them close together to convey the original shape. Do not fit them together.
Photograph and record any items that should not ordinarily be in the environment, as these could have contributed to the accident.
4. Talk to witnesses
Take statements from witnesses as soon as possible. ATL appreciates that due to workload and other pressures, it may not always be feasible for you to do so. If this is the case, ask them to write down the sequence of events and any other relevant information.
You can then send this to ATL. Even just the names and addresses of potential witnesses can prove useful. Some people may be reluctant to become involved in this process. In these situations it is worthwhile pointing out that the information they provide could prevent similar incidents occurring in the future. Remember that some people may prefer to speak to you away from the workplace.
When questioning witnesses, it is preferable to ask open questions such as 'Can you tell me what happened'?
5. Liaise with management to minimise future risks
It is advisable to liaise with management, who may need to put in place measures to deal with the causes of the incident in order to minimise the health and safety risks to others.
The injured employee may need to be advised of the legal merits of pursuing a claim for compensation. If so, tell them to contact ATL as soon as possible (see below). A claim for personal injury must be commenced within three years of the date of the injury.
Need further advice?
Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.