No one wants a workplace accident to occur in their organization. They’re costly in terms of both money and time lost, and they can even result in penalties from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) if you’re found to have not complied with regulatory requirements. In fact, just non-fatal workplace injuries cost U.S. employers up to $171 billion every year.

Some workplace incidents are preventable with an effective risk management process, a good workplace safety culture, and robust safety procedures. But no matter how careful you are, safety incidents (an accident or near miss) can’t always be prevented. So every business needs to be prepared with an Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) incident management process so that you’re ready to respond to any incident in a streamlined and efficient manner.

In this article, we’ll highlight why EHS incident management is important and give you all the information you need to create and implement a good EHS incident management plan.

What Is EHS Incident Management?

EHS incident management is the process of recording, identifying, analyzing, and responding to any incidents in the workplace. These incidents could include accidents that cause work injuries such as trips and falls, fires, natural disasters, or environmental hazards such as an oil spill or chemical leak in a factory. It also includes taking corrective actions to prevent future incidents by fixing the gaps identified during the process.

EHS incident management is not just something that needs to happen after an incident. Instead, it is meant to be a proactive process which includes training related to incident response and prevention, and regular audits or risk assessments to prevent risks from leading to incidents. It is important to remember that whether the incident results in a work injury or it’s a near miss, the EHS incident management process should still be followed.

Why You Should Implement EHS Incident Management

EHS incident management: injured worker talking to a lawyer

EHS incident management is important for many reasons, but the biggest one is that it allows you to quickly respond to any incident in the workplace in a way that can prevent further issues because of the incident, both in terms of worker injuries and property damage. A good EHS incident management plan also ensures regulatory compliance, which helps minimize legal liabilities. It has a few benefits, too, such as:

  • Improving morale as employees feel safer at work
  • Preventing major disruptions to business operations as everyone knows how to respond to an incident
  • Avoiding additional financial liabilities like workers’ compensation and property damage claims
  • Avoiding insurance premium hikes (and in some cases, even reduced premiums), resulting in an improved bottom line

4 Key Steps of EHS Incident Management

Your incident management process will depend on the size of your company, the industry you’re in, the specific risks your workplace faces, and your unique business needs. For example, safety management for a manufacturing company operating heavy machinery will not be the same as EHS incident management for an IT consulting company. But here are the broad steps that you need to take. You can customize these based on your needs.

1. Mitigate Risks

The first step of incident management is to do everything you can to ensure that there is no incident at all. You can do this by conducting regular health & safety risk assessments and audits to identify risks and hazards. These may include unsafe work practices that could lead to work injuries or a gap in your safety procedures that might result in a chemical leak. You can then mitigate them by fixing any gaps in your safety policy, risk management plan, and safety training. This is a cyclical process as you can use past incident data to enhance and streamline your actions here.

2. Prepare for the Incident

Worker calling for help

Of course, as said above, incidents can happen despite all possible prevention and mitigation efforts. So the next step is to create a plan of action for when an incident occurs. This needs to provide clear and detailed instructions on how to respond to different types of incidents. These instructions should include:

  • The names or positions of the people who need to be notified
  • The location of first aid kits, fire extinguishers, protective equipment for hazardous chemicals (such as face masks or hazmat suits), and any other safety equipment applicable for your company
  • The specific steps to be taken in case of each eventuality (e.g., in case of a work injury, one person will administer first aid while another will call for medical help depending on severity)
  • Who is responsible for each action (e.g., a first-aid-trained employee to administer first aid, a nearby colleague to call for help and notify the supervisor, the supervisor to notify other stakeholders, etc.)
  • The time in which actions are expected to be taken (e.g., a fatality needs to be reported to OSHA within 8 hours, a hospitalization must be reported within 24 hours, etc.)
  • Guidelines for reporting incidents

This step also includes other methods of preparation such as employee safety training, regular refreshers on emergency response actions, and generally fostering a good safety culture where every employee understands their own accountability when it comes to safety.

3. Respond to the Incident

If your company and each of your employees are well prepared as outlined in step 2, when an incident does occur, everyone would ideally know exactly what to do. Incident response includes things like:

  • Emergency response activities: For example, administering first aid, following fire evacuation protocols, limiting the damage by placing barricades, wearing face masks or PPE kits in case of an oil/chemical spill, etc.
  • Incident reporting and notifications: A designated person would need to fill an incident report form, and appropriate people such as senior management, contractors (if applicable), and local authorities (in case of injury) need to be notified.
  • Incident investigation: The incident needs to be investigated to identify potential safety risks and gaps in your risk management. This involves root cause analysis and other steps and you can’t always do this immediately. But some actions are time sensitive, such as taking photographs and/or videos of the damage and interviewing affected individuals and witnesses before they forget details.
  • Resuming operations safely: Once the required data is collected, it is important to make sure that operations are resumed in the safest way possible. Depending on the severity of the incident, it may sometimes be prudent to temporarily pause or move activities in the area and only resume them once identified risks are mitigated.
  • Corrective actions: Once the incident investigation is complete, your team needs to implement corrective actions to fix the gaps that might have led to the incident, and try to prevent future incidents from occurring.

4. Document Everything

While going through all the above steps, it’s vital to keep on top of your documentation. Make sure to record every detail of the incident and its aftermath, including evidence of the incident, witness statements, and all details of the incident investigation. At the end of it all, an incident report needs to be prepared which includes all the mentioned details plus a root cause analysis and recommendations for corrective and preventive actions.

EHS incident reporting doesn’t just help build a record of incident data that will help find patterns and aid in decision-making. It’s also a document to show authorities and insurance companies as evidence of the actions you as a company have taken.

Streamline the Process Using Incident Management Software

Incident report on a phone

In a nutshell, EHS incident management is meant to outline everything your business needs to do in the event of an incident in the workplace. This includes preventing these incidents in the first place, preparing for an incident, responding to the incident in the most efficient and effective way possible, and reporting the incident.

Each of these steps involves coordination between different employees and teams and needs regular and clear communication to be effective. Done manually, this would be clunky, inefficient, and could result in human errors (for example, an important notification could be missed or someone may forget to record a piece of evidence). Automation using EHS software such as Pulpstream’s incident management solution would help make the process much smoother and more efficient. Such software has the potential to make the incident management process seamless from start to finish.

If used properly, a solution like Pulpstream can facilitate real-time collection of evidence and data right at the scene of the incident, via a witness or designated personnel’s mobile phone. Automated workflows created for this purpose could be activated to notify relevant stakeholders such as your senior management, relevant authorities, and your insurance team (or alert a designated person to start this process). 

All collected data can be stored in a single dashboard to make investigation easier, and the solution can perform root cause analysis and pattern analysis to identify gaps. This data can be visualized using sophisticated functionalities to aid in corrective actions and other decision-making. Finally, the corrective and preventive action tasks can be assigned to specific people through the system, and their progress can be tracked as well.

Take your EHS incident management to the next level with Pulpstream today. Request a free demo now!