How to manage accidents at work

Health and safety laws apply to all employers, self-employed people and employees in their workplaces.

Employers have a legal responsibility under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (as amended) to provide a safe working environment.

Employees also have legal responsibilities under this Act to work in a safe manner.

However, even where both employers and employees comply with their legal obligations and thereby minimise risk, accidents can and sometimes do happen.


Be prepared


When an accident occurs the immediate priority is to help those who have been injured.

Forward planning can play a critical role in the success or failure of such on the spot help.

All employees should know what to do before an emergency arises.

In the case of a serious injury, prompt and appropriate action can mean the difference between life and death.

The old saying “prevention is better than cure” is very apt.

Planning can help to prevent accidents and minimise damage or injury should one occur – a well planned and executed emergency plan will ensure that appropriate action is taken.

Effective planning should include the following:-

  • Installing appropriate safety equipment;
  • Training employees how to use the equipment and for what purpose;
  • Providing adequate ventilation;
  • Providing adequate and safe methods of disposing of anything which may be hazardous, such as chemicals or bacteria;
  • Providing relevant resources e.g. lifting equipment;
  • Monitoring the safe use of any manufacturing or production equipment and machinery, especially the use of safety guards;
  • Providing personal protective equipment such as clothing or boots;
  • Ensuring that the building conforms to safety standards is in a good state of repair and is clean;
  • Setting a company health and safety policy and ensuring workers know all about it;
  • Setting and monitoring safe operational practices;
  • Ensuring that work areas are tidy and all waste is disposed of safely and promptly;
  • Controlling noise levels;
  • Ensuring minimum first aid provision is in place;
  • Nominating first aiders and providing them with relevant training;
  • Supplying and maintaining first aid boxes. These should be stocked with appropriate contents relating to the type of business and number of employees.
  • Setting up a procedure for recording and reporting accidents;
  • Nominating a person who is responsible for the recording and reporting of accidents internally and to the enforcing authorities;
  • If the business is large enough, appointing a named health and safety officer;
  • Taking out appropriate insurance policies to cover employees and members of the public in the event of an accident;
  • Ensuring that all employees understand what to do in emergency situations; and
  • Setting up fire evacuation procedures, practicing drills and nominating staff to act as fire marshals.


Practical steps


If an accident does occur, well-briefed employees can make all the difference – not only by helping those who are injured but also by preventing further harm or injury to those going to help.

Ensuring that staff are well-briefed may not always guarantee protection against accidents, but it will help to minimise risk, and perhaps the consequences of the emergency.

Good emergency training and employees who act in a measured and controlled manner are important to ensure that the risk to both the injured and those helping the injured is minimised.

Employees should never put themselves in danger when helping out at the scene of an accident.

Step 1 – Assessment of hazards

The first thing they should do when an accident occurs is undertake a quick assessment of any hazards in the vicinity of the injured, for example fires, live electric wires, chemical spillages or the risk of possible explosion.

Whilst all of this may at first seem a little dramatic, it is especially important where somebody does not witness the accident at first hand, for example, when an employee comes across a collapsed or unconscious colleague with no immediate signs of injury.

In this type of situation where the cause is unknown, it is especially important that precautions are taken.

A speedy and common-sense evaluation is needed.

For example, if the floor appears to be wet then the casualty might have slipped or there may be a more sinister danger, such as a live electrical cable which has electrocuted them.

A quick evaluation may prevent the helper stepping on the wet surface and becoming victim number two.

If electricity is involved, then the current should be switched off prior to helping the injured party.

As well as assessing hazards, those providing emergency assistance can take other measures to protect themselves.

These might include wearing protective gloves when dealing with bleeding or using a barrier mouthpiece when providing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

An employee who has received emergency training will be more likely to think and act quickly and rationally than an untrained employee who may very well panic.

Step 2 – On the spot assistance

Once the situation has been evaluated then the next step is to provide on the spot assistance.

In the case of minor injuries this could involve cleaning and dressing wounds.

In the case of more serious injuries this could involve more complex first aid, and this is where the trained first aiders come in.

In the case of any type of incident where the victim has possibly suffered internal injuries, such as broken bones or bleeding, it is vital to call in professional help.

A well-intentioned helper with no training or understanding of the type of injuries the individual could be suffering could inadvertently cause more damage.

If somebody has fallen, then it is sensible not to move them until specialist help arrives.

However, personal judgement must be used – if by leaving the injured party they are likely to come to more harm, then moving them may be the only option.

Common sense and good training are the keys to an employee doing the right thing in the emergency situation.

In all but the most minor of cases, qualified medical personnel should always check out injuries.

Step 3 – Record the accident

All accidents, however minor, must be reported to the employer and recorded in the company accident book.

The whereabouts of the accident book and who is responsible for completing it should be made known to employees.

It must always be kept up to date and accidents recorded as soon as possible after the incident.

In order to comply with data protection legislation, the accident book should not contain personal details and information about individual employees.

Any such details should be stored separately, in a secure location.

Some accidents also have to be reported to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

For example, if an employee misses more than 3 consecutive days at work.

Make sure that your business and those responsible for health and safety are aware of their obligations regarding the type of accident which must be reported and to whom it must be reported.


Other things an employer must do


To comply with legal obligations an employer must undertake regular risk assessments.

Check out the very helpful HSA guide on risk assessments and safety statements  

Representatives from the HSA may visit your site and provide help and advice regarding health and safety matters.

If they find any hazards, they will discuss them with you or your representative.

Additionally, they will notify you in writing and provide instructions regarding what must be rectified, and by when it must be done.

For example, if they found that you had no risk assessments, but a number of significant hazards they would officially notify you that this was not acceptable and should be rectified immediately.

In situations where serious problems are identified they may serve you with a prohibition notice, due to the potential of imminent danger and ask you to rectify the problem as soon as possible.

Failure to act on their instructions or indeed, failure to act on health and safety matters in general, may result in prosecution and could lead to fines or imprisonment.

Individuals can in some circumstances be held personally responsible and liable.

Employers must also:

  • Have current employer’s liability insurance and ensure that the certificate is displayed prominently at their premises;
  • Have a health and safety law poster on display;
  • Have an accident book, which complies with data protection legislation;
  • Report appropriate accidents to the relevant authorities;
  • Where there are four or more employees have a written health and safety policy;
  • Consult with employee representatives about health and safety matters; and
  • Provide training, information, instruction and supervision for employees.

Have Questions About This Guide?

Book a 30-minute call with one of our experts. You’re in safe, experienced hands.

Can’t find what you are looking for?

This service is your service.
If there is content you cannot find on our Hub simply email us your request and we’ll get you sorted.
Scroll to Top