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Occupational Accidents: A Guide for Employers

Employers have a continuous responsibility to ensure a safe working environment through systematic HSE (Health, Safety, and Environment) work. Despite such systematic work, occupational accidents can still occur. In this article, we look at what the employer must do if an occupational accident occurs.

The Working Environment Act does not provide a specific definition of an occupational accident, but the National Insurance Act defines it as “a sudden or unexpected external event that the member has been exposed to at work. Occupational accidents also include a specific time-limited external event that causes a strain or stress that is unusual compared to what is normal in the respective work.”

Employers are required to report occupational accidents to the Labour Inspection Authority and the nearest police authority in the case of serious personal injury or death occurring in connection with work. “Serious personal injury” is not defined in the law, but the Labour Inspection Authority has created a nine-point list over typical cases that fall under serious personal injury, including head injury/concussion with loss of consciousness, skeletal injury, and internal injuries. The list is not exhaustive.

When it Happens – What Do We Do?

When an occupational accident occurs, there are several immediate actions that must be taken to ensure the safety of all involved and to comply with legal requirements. The first crucial step is to contact emergency services – ambulance, fire/rescue, and police – to ensure rapid response and assistance at the accident site.

Securing the accident site is another priority to prevent further injuries and preserve evidence for investigation. Employers also have a duty to report the accident to the Labour Inspection Authority as soon as possible. In the case of severe accidents, this is done by phone almost immediately, followed by a written report found on the Labour Inspection Authority’s website. The safety representative should receive a copy of the report.

Follow-up of the injured and colleagues/witnesses is also critical. It’s essential to offer support, gather testimonies, and ensure all affected individuals receive necessary help and care. Mapping and recording the sequence of events is an integral part of this process, providing valuable information for subsequent investigations and reports.

Communication, both internal and external, must be carefully considered to ensure accurate and sensitive information is shared responsibly. Employers must also send a damage report to NAV (Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration) and the insurance company to initiate compensation and damage coverage processes.

Finally, employers are required to prepare an internal report on the accident. This step is crucial for improving the working environment and safety protocols to minimize the risk of future accidents. The report should document the accident in detail, including causes, sequence of events, and measures taken to address and prevent future incidents.

What Happens After an Occupational Accident?

After an occupational accident, especially in cases of death or serious injuries, an investigation process is often initiated, involving both the police and the Labour Inspection Authority. They work to understand the exact circumstances and causes of the accident to enhance workplace safety and prevent future incidents. The investigation also aims to uncover whether safety before the accident met legal requirements, leading to potential penalties for the business and/or individuals if not.

The accident area is typically cordoned off to preserve the site’s integrity and gather evidence. This critical phase involves collecting precise details and information about the event to provide clarity and understanding of the sequence of events.

Witnesses are interviewed to gather firsthand information about the incident. Their testimonies offer valuable insights into the exact circumstances and sequence of events leading to the accident, contributing to a comprehensive picture of the incident crucial for the investigation.

In addition to witnesses, other key organizational figures are often interviewed, including the CEO, board chair, the immediate supervisor of the injured or deceased, the HSE responsible in the business, and the HSE responsible on site. These individuals can provide important contextual information and details crucial for understanding the underlying factors and conditions that may have contributed to the accident.

This thorough investigation ensures all aspects of the accident are considered, and necessary measures are identified and implemented to improve safety and prevent similar future incidents.

Employers must be prepared for investigations from the Labour Inspection Authority and the police. It’s important to be aware of the HSE work already done and have legal expertise to ensure fair treatment. Although a natural impulse might be to “lay flat,” employers should not downplay the good work often done in HSE work.

There has been an increase in focus on labor crime, and employers can face both criminal and administrative sanctions. It’s important to be aware of sector-specific rules and conditions that can lead to penalties, including lacking routines for dangerous work, insufficient training, and violations of working time regulations.

When Does the Business Risk Penalty or Fee from the Labour Inspection Authority?

Our experience shows that there are specific themes that increase the risk of penalties and fees from the Labour Inspection Authority. One such theme is lacking routines. This can include cases where important procedures like safety rounds or Safe Job Analysis (SJA) are not performed, or there are other key shortcomings related to systematic HSE work.

Another theme is insufficient training. Businesses are required to ensure documented safety training when using work equipment, according to the regulations on the execution of work § 10-2. Without adequate training, employers can be held responsible for accidents and injuries.

Unsafe solo work is also an area that can attract attention from the Labour Inspection Authority. This especially applies to work involving a high risk of violence and threats. Employers must assess and minimize the risk associated with solo work to ensure employee safety.

Physical security not meeting requirements can also lead to penalties. Examples of this can be lacking protective covers on a saw or other equipment, leading to injuries and accidents at the workplace.

Violations of working time regulations are another common cause of sanctions. This is not only a violation in itself but can also result in the employer being indirectly responsible for accidents due to foreseeable fatigue and inattention resulting from overwork.

Employers must also be aware of following up on previous actions contrary to clear instructions with adequate disciplinary sanctions and/or other measures. For example, if an employer is aware that employees occasionally do not use fall protection when working at heights, but reactions have been absent, this can lead to penalties.

Lacking alternative actions is another critical area. This occurs in situations where a worker is instructed to perform a task but is not provided with the necessary equipment or routines to perform the task safely. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that all workers have the necessary tools and procedures to perform their work safely and efficiently.

Penalties and Infringement Fees – What Trends Do We See?

We observe several trends regarding penalties and infringement fees in the workplace. There is increased use of administrative sanctions for violations of the working environment legislation. This follows an increased level of public control, with ever-new areas where the Labour Inspection Authority is given supervisory authority.

Another noticeable trend is the increased focus on using a high level of punishment to combat labor crime. This involves a stricter approach to enforcing and sanctioning violations of the working environment legislation.

Additionally, we see that fewer cases are decided in the criminal track. Many cases that could have been handled through the legal system are now decided by administrative sanction. This means that infringement fees from the Labour Inspection Authority have become a more common reaction to violations of the legislation.

There is also an increased focus on the forms of attachment to working life and who the employer should be responsible for. This reflects a broader trend where accountability and responsibility relationships are closely scrutinized to ensure that employees’ rights and safety are maintained in all aspects of working life.