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Accidents in the Workplace: Is the Employer Responsible?

Ruth Hoffmann
Ruth Hoffmann

Employers and employees have a lot at stake in workplace accidents. The smallest detail matters.

Workplace accidents are very common, and employers must be very protective toward workplace accidents. Workers must always ensure that they're following all provided guidelines, but when something goes wrong, they should pursue their rights to the full extent provided by the law.

Reasonable expectations of safety

Every employer has a responsibility to provide safe, reasonable working conditions for their employees. It's why things like OSHA exist in the first place and why these regulations are so strictly enforced in many places. It can be difficult to define these regulations in a universal manner, which is why each industry has their own specific guidelines, but you should do your best to familiarize yourself with them, both as an employer as well as an employee.

If you're an employer, it can be worthwhile – think of it as a one-time investment – to hire someone to go through your facilities and verify that they are in an adequate condition for the kind of work that will be performed in them.

The employer always bears some responsibility

That said, no matter what happens, the employer can always be painted in a negative light in a courtroom. Even if an employee blatantly violated policies and did something out of the ordinary, a good attorney can successfully argue their case in court. For example, they could claim that the company could have done a better job explaining the specific safety guidelines that were violated, or they could accuse the company of not providing enough oversight on hazardous processes, which has allowed a less-experienced worker to harm themselves.

The point is, an employer must always be prepared to take some portion of the hit, even in cases where they're clearly in the right. Malicious self-harm can still be proven, but it's going to take some time and effort.

Employee responsibility

Every employee has a strict responsibility to comply with the company's safety guidelines, and to report any violations. These circumstances can severely reduce the case an employee might have against their workplace in case of an accident that results in injury. Even if a court agrees that the employee was at least partly responsible for the incident, they will still likely place a lot of the blame on the employer themselves.

It can't hurt to remind your employees of their own duties and responsibilities from time to time, though, especially with regards to safety and other similar issues. In the least, this will make your stance on the situation clear and will let everyone know that you're serious about safety.

Promoting a strong safety culture

That's why it's so important to educate workers on the various aspects of workplace safety and to ensure that all relevant guidelines are strictly enforced across all levels of the organization. In other words, an employer must not be afraid to discipline those who violate safety policies. It may degrade morale when the rules are first enforced, but in the long run, it will have the opposite effect.

As workers start to realize that the company actually cares about their safety, they will be more inclined to actually follow the guidelines set out by the employer, and they will be more responsible in things like reporting violations and consulting the company when they are confused on certain issues. A strong safety culture is something that every organization can benefit from, not just those working with the most dangerous types of materials and processes.

Make sure that you have a clear outline of your expectations in this regard though. Always communicate safety regulations clearly, and don’t favor any of your employees over others in case something goes wrong or someone is found to be in violation. The last thing you want to do is to promote favoritism and other similar ideologies, which will quickly undermine any effort you might have made on the safety front.

Adapting rules as the company evolves

The safety guidelines that you had in place when you first started the company might not be adequate at some point in its future, especially if the workforce grows at a rapid rate. This is even truer in cases where a company adopts new technological solutions quickly and requires their workers to learn lots of new details related to operating these solutions properly. It's important to adapt the various safety guidelines that you have in place to these changes and ensure that the entire company is always on board with any modifications you may have made to the rules.

To this end, it's not a bad idea to consider something like regular – monthly, weekly or so – meetings where you discuss current concerns with organizational safety and other related topics. You'd be surprised how often people have something to say in these situations, and giving them a good platform to express their concerns is one of the most important things a responsible leader does.

Out of the workplace but on the clock

Sometimes, work accidents happen outside of the company's offices. This is common in companies that employ drivers, for example. When someone is involved in a driving accident while on the clock, this can complicate the resolution of the legal problems that will follow. It's very important that an employer protects the rights of not only their company but their employees as well in these cases. Hiring external legal representation that specializes in driving accidents is one of the best things an employer can do in a situation like this.

That's because these incidents usually evolve external parties, not just the company's own workers. And when your employee was at fault, this could not only paint the company in a negative light, but it can even have some actual legal repercussions for the entire organization. It’s a good idea to have the contact details of a good attorney who specializes in cases of this type so ou're prepared when something eventually goes wrong.

Larger issues

Sometimes a workplace accident will have wide-reaching consequences, and they might even extend through the entire organization and outside of it. An accident which results in environmental pollution is one example. In these cases, your priorities should be slightly different. Resolving the legal dispute that follows afterward is not the most important thing – you should be focused on minimizing the fallout from the incident, both for the company and for those close to it.

This is another area where a good attorney is pretty much mandatory. They will be able to guide you through your response to the incident to ensure a proper resolution. You may also have to consult other types of experts to ensure that you have a full overview of what’s going on and the kinds of actions that you need to take.

Internal assistance

Whenever someone is involved in an accident without any consequences other than for themselves, it's important to address this on a more personal level, and provide that employee with proper assistance and guidance through their difficult times. They will likely need some time before they can get back on their feet, and you should facilitate that as best as possible. Even if the incident wasn't your fault in any way, it's still good to show employees that they are treated like human beings in this organization.

Of course, everything within reasonable limits. An employee who's showing clear disregard for internal policies and safety precautions will likely not care too much about your help afterward either, so judge the situation and take action as you deem fit. But your response to this incident will reflect on your reputation as a leader in the long run and could have some unexpected consequences.

Adequate reporting systems

Last but not least, it's important to not only prevent workplace accidents but to ensure that the company is properly equipped to deal with those situations from the very beginning. One of the most critical areas in this regard is reporting. Every organization must have a clearly laid-out process for reporting workplace accidents and safety protocol violations. This process must be communicated to employees properly, and everyone must be on the same page with regards to what they need to do following an accident.

Encourage employees to follow up on this by actually reporting the issues they observe, and penalize those who don't in an appropriate manner. Make sure that you make it clear that these punishments are for the better of the whole company; otherwise, you risk decreasing morale across the board to some extent.

The responsibility of an employer in a workplace accident does not end with what they could have done to prevent the issue. It also involves the actions the employer takes after the accident, both to help those affected and to minimize the risk of the same accident happening again in the future. Situations like these can have some serious implications on the development of your company, whether you like it or not. It's important to take matters into your own hands and ensure that you see through the full resolution of this situation.

Image Credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images
Ruth Hoffmann
Ruth Hoffmann Member
I teach coaches, consultants & professional service providers the strategic & psychologically proven frameworks that will help them build a highly influential personal brand profile, grow a highly engaged client base of loyal customers and create strategic marketing systems that will help them sell with ease.