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Letting your guard down?

Investigations October 17, 2023

Recent social media posts by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) have highlighted the dangers of removing safety guards from plant and machinery in the workplace. Showing the dangers of guard removal on feed hoppers, cone crushers and belt conveyors, the HSA issued a timely reminder of the hazards presented by tampering with the safety mechanisms of dangerous machinery.

Despite enormous strides made in workplace safety in recent decades, workplace accidents remain a common occurrence and are likely to increase given the current housing crisis and the demands being placed on the construction industry to deliver more and more completed homes. Businesses operating at or close to full capacity, often in an environment of acute labour shortages and under increasing demands from the market to deliver, can be tempted to cut corners and take shortcuts. It is in such a setting that accidents and the inevitable subsequent litigation find fertile breeding ground.

When a workplace accident happens, and it is a regretful fact of life that they do occur, the organisation is compelled by law in many cases to immediately investigate the accident and report the accident to the HSA. The report to the HSA will merely be the first headache that the organisation will experience, and reportable accidents will almost certainly give rise to personal injury litigation, wasting precious resources and driving up insurance premiums.

Not all workplace accidents will be open and shut cases of safety guards being removed from plant and equipment where the cause of the accident is self-evident. The events surrounding the accident may be murky and unintelligible, hampered by the panic and alarm of the accident itself, the gathering of rubberneckers at the accident scene, even the occasional covering of tracks by workers or line managers of mistakes made or shortcuts taken.

Establishing exactly what happened can often be a difficult and complex task, leaving the organisation’s investigator feeling overwhelmed. An incomplete, muddled investigation will inevitably lead to raising more questions than answers, drawing the focus of the authorities such as the HSA, and presenting the organisation’s insurers and legal professionals with an uphill task in defending any claim.

Not all workplace accidents or incidents will result in injury or damage, and thankfully in many cases these will amount to nothing more than “mere misses.” However, you might not be so lucky the next time around, and if the root cause of the accident remains unidentified and/or unaddressed, history will almost certainly repeat itself.

Therefore, it is crucial that an organisation properly conducts a thorough and expeditious investigation into any accident or incident in its workplace, identifying the exact circumstances of the incident, interviewing witnesses and collecting statements, preserving evidence and building an incident report file that will withstand scrutiny. Using its findings, the investigator can carry out a comprehensive root cause analysis of the underlying reasons behind incident and make recommendations to take steps to prevent a reoccurrence.

To acquire the skills to deal with such events, read more…

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