An incident management system is a critical part of a health and safety system.
Even businesses with the most diligently managed system can have an incident occur at almost any time. A good incident management system will track every factor relating to an incident such as;
Details of the incident
Assets (plant, machinery, tools and equipment) involved
Chemical and hazardous goods involved
Jobs, tasks or activities the incident was related to
Injuries and the ongoing management of injuries
Investigations including police reports
Attachment and linking of images, videos, audio interviews and documents
Actions to eliminate future occurrences
Link to associated risk assessments, hazard reports, Safe Operating and Emergency procedures
How Incidents Happen
An incident consists of a sequence of events that cause other corresponding events.
When viewed on a timeline we see how these events or contributing factors are related. It’s simple cause and effect.
Contributing factors are what connects one process with another process. The first is partly responsible for the second, and the second is partially dependent on the first.
An incident can have many contributing factors that are all in the past.
A contributing factor can, in turn, cause many other future factors.
The Foreseeable and the Unforeseeable
In health and safety, there are two basic categories of a contributing factor;
An example of the foreseeable would be a worker acting the fool on a factory floor in a forklift. It’s easy to foresee the contributing factors here. Accordingly, you can move to eliminate those factors by preventing the fool from working with forklifts.
An example of the unforeseeable would be where a vital bolt is holding a fast-moving mechanism together. Molecular-stress is weakening the bolt, and it is not observable.
Subsequently, the mechanism it’s holding together gives way creating a chain reaction of further contributing factors. The mechanism eventually disintegrates causing the metal to fly, under force, into a human operator.
Think about accidents or incidents you‘ve personally been exposed to, either directly or indirectly.
How many of the contributing factors that resulted in those incidents could have been prevented?
In reality, every single one of them; If they had been foreseeable!
What Is Reasonably Practicable?
The law requires a business to foresee as many of these contributing factors as is reasonably practicable.
The problem is that “reasonably practicable” can change dramatically. Especially if you’re viewing the incident with the luxury of 20/20 hindsight. Foresight is never 20/20!
The further problem is that often “reasonably practicable” is open to the viewpoint of the judge in court.
Look at this example;
An office worker who injured his neck at work after being startled by a faulty alarm will be granted almost $2m in damages, a court ruled. Michael Hooker, who was working as a computer draftsman at Allied Pumps in Perth, was left permanently disabled after he sustained the injury in 2012.
Hooker claimed a “loud and piercing screeching” startled him as he was deep in his work, causing him to turn sharply. His knees hit the side of his desk, and he felt intense pain all the way up to his neck and right shoulder, documents from the District Court of Western Australia revealed.
The alarm, which was part of a faulty personal gas detector, was triggered by a co-worker who claimed the incident was a joke, the court heard.
Hooker suffered soft tissue injury and nerve damage as a result and was declared unfit to work. He sued his employer for damages, diminished quality of life, and loss of past and future income. He initially sought $2.5m as compensation, but Allied Pumps disputed the claim. The court, however, ruled Allied Pumps had neglected its duty of care to the employee by allowing the alarm inside office premises.
Allied Pumps was declared liable for the man’s injury and ordered to pay $1.9m in damages, over $260,000 for previous medical expenses, and $135,000 for general damages.
Could this business have reasonably foreseen the contributing factors?
The challenge for business today!
How do we foresee every possible contributing factor that could lead to an incident? We cannot! However, when we DO miss something, we must convince a judge in court that we did everything that was reasonably practicable?
There’s a saying that the difference between a minor incident and a major one is luck and timing! However, as business owners, we can’t plead that in court. We’re going to need to provide hard evidence that we did everything possible to foresee the contributing factors.
The Incident Management System
We need to be diligent with managing our systems including risk assessments,procedures and monitoring. They’re the only way we can systematically identify and control the factors that lead to hazards.
We also need to be equally diligent in investigating the contributing factors of an incident. Similarly, when an incident or near miss occurs, we need to change our systems instantly to avoid a repeat.
Using manila folders, paper templates and filing cabinets to manage health and safety is not enough to get this done. You’re going to need, an effective incident management system.
Modern-day health and safety management has completely outgrown these tools. We now need to manage it at least to the same degree as our accounting, with a synchronised management system.