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How to draft an accident response plan

Vince Versace

An accident-response plan is a core strategy that can help construction companies minimize their risk and ensure effective action when an incident occurs, says legal expert Jeremy Warning.

An accident-response plan is a core strategy that can help construction companies minimize their risk and ensure effective action when an incident occurs, says legal expert Jeremy Warning.

“The accident-response plan is not a document posted in the site trailer or in the workplace and not a document distributed to every employee,” said Warning, senior associate with law firm Heenan Blaikie.

“It really is a confidential and privileged document that is the bailiwick of management and a couple of individuals who should be thoroughly familiar with it.”

Warning recently spoke at the fifth bi-annual Construction Labour Relations conference in Toronto.

He discussed practical measures to ensure an effective accident response that included topics such as complying with legal obligations and managing internal and regulatory investigations. Preservation of an accident scene, assigning an accident response co-ordinator, ensuring regulatory body investigations are shadowed and documenting interview requests are among the key elements of an effective accident-response plan, Warning said.

“There needs to be emergency procedures in place well before an incident,” he said.

Frontline staff need to be aware of their obligations in an accident, especially statutory ones.

These include preserving and not disturbing an accident scene, immediately reporting an incident and not obstructing regulatory inspectors.

“It is the front-line staff that can directly affect the organization’s response or colour the view of the labour ministry inspector depending on how they handle those immediate obligations,” Warning said.

In his experience, Warning has noticed that where front-line staff aren’t aware of their statutory obligations to maintain a scene, they often disturb it, not out of “disregard for health and safety standards or desire to frustrate any inquiry” but for a host of well-intentioned reasons, such as preventing a slowdown in production or because the accident scene is disturbing.

“Those are all fairly benevolent reasons to disturb a scene, but unfortunately, for all those who are responsible for a workplace, none of those are an excuse,” he said.

An accident-response co-ordinator, who understands such things as occupational health and safety standards, legal obligations and labour inspector powers, is a key cog in the process, Warning said.

The co-ordinator will establish a positive and informed point of contact for all regulatory officials this person will be the face of the organization to the regulator. An effective co-ordinator as part of a strong response plan will be active during the course of an investigation.

“When you are dealing with an accident response, it really is about the collection and control of information.

“Once you have a workplace incident, the ministry or other regulators are coming to collect information they control,” said Warning.

“They do not give you a copy of their reports or witness statements — they retain them for themselves to evaluate the case.”

A company’s plan should include monitoring and shadowing of an inspection, where possible or allowed.

If a company cannot have someone sit in on interviews, it should conduct follow-up interviews with the person or hold witness debriefs.

An effective response plan also includes taking or recording measurements at the accident scene, recording any reconstruction, ensuring document collection and making sure that ministry orders that will not be appealed are complied with.

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