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As the saying goes, we learn from experience, but when it comes to workplace accidents, experience can prove very costly for companies and executives or managers, and not just in financial terms. This is because a serious or very serious accident can bring criminal liability and cause administrative, social security, labor, civil and reputational headaches for companies.
It cannot be disputed that investing in prevention is the best way to avoid accidents. However, there is always some degree of risk and, actually, despite companies’ efforts and investments to prevent workplace accidents, they still happen.
That is why it is vital for any company, particularly those that have not suffered serious or very serious accidents in the past and, therefore, have no prior experience in dealing with them, to have a series of protocols for both before and after the accident. Any actions taken in the 24 hours after an accident are essential, because they can determine the liability that may arise from the accident.
On the one hand, it is very important for the company to strictly comply with all the obligations established in occupational risk prevention regulations before a serious accident occurs. However, our experience over the years tells us that, in many cases, companies focus solely on “formal compliance,” making sure they have the mandatory documentation, in most cases provided by an outside prevention service. This approach to prevention is insufficient if it is not combined with “material compliance” measures, including, in particular, a demanding training and awareness program especially aimed at managers and middle managers to make them aware that eliminating or minimizing any risk of accident in the company is an essential preventive priority. This program will involve them in this objective and also raise awareness of the liability that a serious or very serious accident can bring, including their own personal criminal liability.
There are still companies that do not review their civil liability insurance until they are involved in a serious or very serious accident, when they are met with unpleasant surprises on the amounts and contingencies covered, or the deductibles and exclusions agreed. Some companies do not take the time to review the actual situation and agreements with their subcontractors, or how the preventive activity is coordinated with them.
There are many other aspects that, while they have nothing to do with the mandatory formal prevention documentation, must not be neglected as, once the accident happens, the company cannot remedy or rectify the situation. It is too late.
On the other hand, on a basic level, after a serious or very serious accident occurs, any company must take immediate, coordinated internal action, with no room for improvisation.
To ensure the appropriate response to an accident, however, the company must have basic protocols and bodies establishing the guidelines for action in case of accident, the individuals responsible for dealing with it in each work center and on each shift, and the contact persons for communication with the authorities, institutions, media, the workers and their representatives.
We must bear in mind that, once a serious or very serious accident occurs, events unfold at dizzying speed in the first hours or even minutes. Therefore, it is essential that all the individuals involved in managing that brief period of time are coordinated to perfection and deal with the two main issues: caring for the accident victim, first and foremost, and investigating the events surrounding the accident.
Jumping the gun when establishing the causes of the accident, not having multidisciplinary legal advice (in the labor and criminal areas, essentially) or allowing the accident to be dealt with by a person without training or sensitivity in the matter can have very serious consequences for the company and for some of the people that are part of it.
Ultimately, in view of the real risk of suffering a serious or very serious accident, we believe all companies must have a policy on how to handle these types of accidents. What they should not do is wait for an accident to occur to act; they should get ahead of that risk and put in place the measures to not only eliminate or reduce the risk but also minimize the liability that it may entail.
This post is also available in: Español