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What should business owners do when a workplace accident occurs?

Savvy business owners want to avoid workplace accidents at all costs. They know that a workplace accident causes harm to employees and to the health of the business itself. While most business owners take the precautions necessary to avoid accidents, they can and do still happen. In fact, hundreds of millions of workplace accidents occur each year. When a workplace accident happens in your business, what do you do?

This article details the steps you should take to respond to an accident in your business. It also answers several important questions you need to know to be better prepared for workplace accidents now and in the future. By the time you are finished reading this article, you are likely to be more equipped to handle workplace accidents when they arise in your business.

Let’s get started.

What is considered a workplace accident?

A workplace accident describes an unexpected, sudden event that leaves at least one employee injured physically or mentally. It also can result in fatalities. They include work-related injuries that occur on business property as well as off-property when actively carrying out business activities.

Workplace accidents can include personal injury arising from overexertion, such as lifting a too-heavy object, as well as minor injuries such as sprains resulting from something as simple as tripping over a forklift that wasn't properly stored.

However, it is essential to note that workplace accidents do not include occupational diseases that arise from the job. An employee falling off a ladder and breaking their leg is a workplace accident. Lung cancer that occurs due to prolonged contact with a harmful substance on the job site is an occupational disease. The exception to this rule is asbestos exposure, in which case the employee can still sue the business should the exposure result in long-term health complications such as mesothelioma.

What is the difference between an accident and a lawsuit?

An accident refers to an incident that results in death or injury. A lawsuit is an action taken by the employee against the employer to recoup damages sustained from an occupational injury. These lawsuits can be highly damaging to a business, so most states require business owners to purchase and maintain workers’ compensation insurance. While the employee does not have to prove negligence to make a workers' compensation claim, the presence of the insurance stops the owner from sustaining potentially fatal financial damages to their business due to a lawsuit.

This being said, there are still instances when you may be faced with a lawsuit, such as when workers’ comp does not pay out enough to cover the damages sustained by the employee. When you’re faced with a lawsuit in these cases, you will have to defend yourself against negligence claims. Procure a high-quality legal professional to help you through this process.

Helpful hint: Use Huckleberry’s free and fast worker’s comp calculator to see how much you’re likely to pay in premiums.

What types of workplace accidents are preventable?

Many workplace accidents are preventable. Falls due to improperly maintained scaffolding or ladders can be prevented, as can slips and trips caused by lack of signage on wet floors. Wet or dry materials can also be hazardous if not stored correctly, so business owners who want to reduce workplace accidents should ensure that practices are in place to keep all materials adequately put away.

While drug or alcohol-induced workplace accidents are sometimes exempt from payouts from workers’ comp, you can reduce the risk of accidents like these by enforcing regular, routine drug tests in the workplace. Similarly, workers’ comp often does not cover injuries resulting from workers fighting or playing around. However, you should still monitor your workforce to ensure that peace is kept throughout each workday.

Overall, a straightforward way to reduce workplace accidents is to implement a safety program to train and educate yourself and your staff regularly on protocols and procedures that reduce the risk of such events. Display Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) posters regarding workplace accidents and conduct training sessions for new equipment or supplies that may prove hazardous if not adequately handled. Such a strategy will likely create a safer work environment that reduces the risk of work-related accidents leading to minor and fatal injuries alike.

Why workplace accidents are your responsibility

OSHA mandates that you provide a safe and healthy workplace for your employees. While you can train them on safety, the law holds that it is up to you to make your workplace safe. Therefore, you need to do all you can to remain compliant and provide the safest possible environment for your staff.

Refer to the OSHA website for a list of the rules and regulations you must follow to remain compliant and avoid negligence. These regulations vary by industry.

Employer’s guide to workplace accidents

Even if you put every possible policy and protocol in place to eliminate minor and serious injuries due to workplace accidents, you may still have them in your business. When accidents occur, you need to know how to respond both in the moment and afterward. Let’s look at several steps to take to handle workplace accidents.

1) Assess the injury

When an accident happens, the first thing to do is assess the damages. Where is your employee injured? If the injury is life-threatening, call 911 immediately. If it’s non-life-threatening, care for your employee concerning the seriousness of the injury. This could mean calling a medical team in or assisting the employee in finding the nearest urgent care clinic.

2) Secure the scene

One accident doesn’t need to turn into two. Create a barrier between the accident scene and the rest of the staff so that no one else gets injured. Secure any materials or equipment that may have been involved in the accident.

3) Report the accident

No matter how severe or minor the injury, it is imperative to conduct proper accident reporting. After tending to the injured worker’s needs, speak with any witnesses to the incident. Take photos of where the accident occurred and follow all OSHA reporting and recordkeeping protocols. This will include notifying OSHA of the incident within 8 hours if it results in death and within 24 hours if the accident resulted in limb amputation or hospitalization. It is essential to be accurate and detailed in your accident report.

You will also need to file a state-specific “First Notice of Loss” with your workers’ compensation insurance carrier within 24 hours. If possible, both you and the injured employee should be on the phone when filing the notice. If not, you can call on your own.

Helpful hint: Keep tabs on your workers’ comp insurance to ensure that it never lapses and that you are paying the proper amount to receive coverage.

4) Connect with your injured employee

It is essential to show your employee that you honestly and authentically care for their well-being. Check on them throughout their recovery process, open lines of communication, and let them know through your actions that they can trust you to do right by them. This will not only help you maintain a strong, positive relationship with your employee, but it may save you from a lawsuit in the future.

5) Help your employee get back to work

Once your employee has received the medical care they need and has recovered from their injury, you will need to help them make a smooth transition back to work. This can be more difficult if the employee has been on leave for a long time.

To help an employee return safely, create and implement a transitional modified job program to work within their current capacity. Doing this may help keep your worker off long-term disability and lower workers’ comp costs.

6) Prevent future incidents

Learn from the incident so you can avoid future accidents. If you can identify what went wrong, put a plan in place to address the issues so that other employees do not suffer the same experience. This may mean that you have to replace equipment, purchase more protective equipment to have on hand, add a preventive maintenance plan, or adjust the floorplan of your facility to remove hazardous obstacles.

7) Respond appropriately should a lawsuit occur

If your injured employee does decide to sue, keep communication transparent and open with your own legal counsel as well as the employee in question. Litigation is often detrimentally costly, and you may be able to settle the workers’ comp claim amicably and efficiently if you work to keep healthy communication between you and your employee.

Helpful hint: It is essential to procure general liability insurance to aid your litigation process. This insurance policy helps to defray legal fees and costs associated with a lawsuit.

Why workers’ comp insurance is vital for your small business

As previously addressed, workers’ comp is not only a critical insurance policy for any business owner to have, but it’s legally required for most businesses. Your workers’ comp insurance helps you:

  • Replace lost wages for employees that sustain many different types of injuries while at work
  • Pay the cost of their medical treatment
  • Pay for occupational rehabilitation
  • Provide additional benefits that may be required on a case-by-case basis

Without this important policy in place, you are vulnerable to citations from your local government and potentially debilitating lawsuits from injured employees. With workers’ comp in place, you are protected from these costs should a workplace incident lead to the personal injury of one or more of your employees.  

Get no-hassle workers’ comp built for small businesses from Huckleberry

At Huckleberry, we want to help you cover yourself in the case of a workplace accident as well as other potential financial damages your business may face—all while taking up as little of your valuable time as possible. Grab your fast and free workers’ comp quote now, or get a quote for multiple insurance policies based on the needs of your industry.  

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