What to Do When an Accident Happens at Work?

Office worker with injury at work
Mordechai Kamenetsky
Last Updated: 
October 30, 2023

Workplace accidents can be devastating. They’re also far more common than many people realize and can result in severe injury, maiming, and death. Understanding what to do when an accident happens at work is critical for the employee, as well as for the employer. 

Not sure what to do in the event of a workplace accident? We’ll discuss everything you need to know in this post.

The state of the nation: Accidents at work on the rise

Before we explore what to do when an accident happens at work or how workers’ comp insurance operates, we need to discuss the problem itself. At one point, US jobs were becoming safer. However, that’s no longer the case. 2021 (the most recent year for which national statistics are available) marked a substantial uptick in work-related deaths. 

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an estimated 2.6 million injuries and illnesses in private businesses in 2021, which was an increase of 6.3% for injuries (illnesses decreased by 32.9% thanks to COVID restrictions and vaccinations). 

As you can see, work-related injuries are surprisingly common. Those numbers come from across all industries, and while some are certainly more dangerous than others (forestry is more dangerous than, say, clerical work), all workplaces present risks to employees. 

That means there’s always a chance of an accident occurring and leading to injuries or death. Knowing what to do when an accident happens at work is critical because time is of the essence both in terms of employee care and employer responsibilities.

What to do when an accident happens at work

If an accident at work occurs, you must follow very specific steps. We’ve outlined these below to help ensure clarity.

Assess the situation

Assess the situation

The first step in the accident at work procedure is to assess the situation. 

If the situation is life-threatening or an obviously severe injury has occurred, call 911 immediately. If your business has a medical response team or safety supervisor, they should be notified, too. 

If the injury is less severe, take the employee to a clinic or hospital for an assessment. 

It’s important to take photos and speak with the employee immediately (if possible). Document the employee’s injury, ask how it happened, and get any eyewitness accounts recorded now while the situation is still fresh in everyone’s minds. 

Even if your employee says they are fine, the incident/injury should be noted in case they decide to file a workers’ compensation claim later.

Know and follow OSHA Rules and Regulations

Know and follow OSHA Rules and Regulations

OSHA has very specific rules and regulations in place when it comes to workplace accidents and deaths. 

If a severe injury has occurred (loss of a limb, loss of an eye, or hospitalization), employers must report the situation via OSHA’s hotline within 24 hours. 

If an employee is killed on the job, employers have only eight hours to report it. 

Employers can call the OSHA hotline at 800-321-6742. OSHA also operates an online incident hotline. All responders to the incident should also know and follow OSHA’s rules regarding exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

Follow the formal Emergency Safety Plan

Follow the formal Emergency Safety Plan

Every business should have an emergency plan in place that dictates what to do when an accident happens at work. 

In many cases, this is part of an overall strategy that includes workplace safety training, and it should be documented and available to all employees. Most businesses include important information in their plans, such as where first aid kits are stored, which managers or safety team leaders should be notified, and more. 

Secure and investigate the scene

Secure and investigate the scene

Secure the scene of the accident as soon as feasible. Priority should be given to employee care, but you must prevent anyone from disturbing the scene, too. 

This is important because you’ll need to assess the situation and document important facts, including:

  • Who was present?
  • What equipment was being used?
  • What materials were being used?
  • What primary and secondary evidence is present?
  • Is there video footage of the area during the accident?

It’s important to note that the insurance company will determine whether the employee’s accident claim is compensable, but the employer does have a role to play in securing the scene, cataloging evidence, and presenting an honest account of the situation to the insurer.

Report the accident to your Insurer

Report the accident to your Insurance Company

Next, you need to report the accident to your workers’ compensation insurance carrier. This may or may not be the same insurance company you use for other business-related insurance needs. 

The contact information for your insurance company should be included in your safety plan. Provide the photos, statements, and information gathered previously to your insurer. 

Note: The insurance company will also conduct its own investigation into the accident, but the information you provide will be invaluable in determining an outcome.

Ensure the Employee is cared for

Ensure the Employee is cared for

It’s important to ensure that the injured employee receives the medical care necessary. This will vary from accident to accident. 

In some cases, little to no care may be required. In others, that care may take the form of splints or braces. Some employees may require time in the hospital or time at home to recover and heal. 

Establish leave if necessary

Establish leave if necessary

Some injuries may be relatively minor, and the employee can return to work quickly. In others, the employee may require a longer period of leave. 

Under US law, time off under the FMLA can run concurrently with workers’ compensation leave. However, the most important thing is for employers to follow the recommendations of the employee’s doctors. 

Establish a Return-to-Work Program

Establish a Return-to-Work Program

The longer an employee is away from work, the harder it is for them to return. Extended absences due to injuries can also lead to poor mental health, including depression. 

Establishing a return-to-work program gives employees a stepped method of coming back to work that fits their abilities as their injury heals. For instance, an employee might not be able to return to full work quite yet, but they may be well enough to work a partial shift. 

Allowing them to return in that capacity, along with other modifications to their responsibilities, if necessary, can accelerate healing and improve their mental health while also offsetting the costs of hiring temporary replacements or the challenges involved with shifting other employees into that position.  

Know the rules regarding Workers’ Compensation Claims

Know the rules regarding Workers’ Compensation Claims

Depending on the situation and the severity of any injury resulting from a workplace accident, the employee may not decide to file a workers’ compensation claim at this time. That does not mean they abdicate their right to do so, however. 

How long can you claim after an accident at work?
That varies from state to state. This is called the statute of limitations, and it usually runs for at least a year after the accident occurred, but some states mandate two or more years. 

All employers need to know the accident at work claim time limit that applies within their state.

In addition to placing a limit on how long after an accident an employee can file for workers’ compensation, some states also place limits on:

  • The amount of time an employee can receive benefits
  • The benefits offered to the employee and their family
  • Who can receive benefits and for how long if the employee dies
Take steps to prevent future accidents

Take steps to prevent future accidents

Every workplace accident is an opportunity. It gives you insight into workplace practices, procedures, equipment, and materials that might be unsafe and provides a chance to make positive changes. Use this opportunity to make your workplace safer for other employees.

There’s been an accident at work: What to do 

By this point, you should have a good understanding of the steps to take in the event of a workplace accident, including how to report an accident at work. Your priority should always be the health and safety of your employees. 

Next is assessing the scene and contacting OSHA (if applicable). You also need to alert your workers’ comp insurance company and ensure that your employee receives the care they require to heal and return to work. 

A formal return-to-work program can help accelerate healing and prevent your employees from suffering from depression as they heal, too. 

As an employer, you have responsibilities to those you employ. Providing workers’ compensation insurance is one of those and is required in most states. 

It’s an important form of protection for employees, but it also protects employers. Otherwise, a lawsuit could mean paying benefits out of your profits, which could quickly erode your ability to operate a business. 

If you haven’t yet purchased workers’ compensation insurance, now’s the time. It’s also a good time to consider changing you insurance company and finding a company that truly understands your needs and can provide the protection you and your employees deserve. 

At Kickstand Insurance, we’re committed to doing more than just providing workers’ compensation insurance. We want to work with you to build a thriving business. Get in touch today for your free quote. It’s as simple as 1-2-3.

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Note: The information provided in this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional legal or insurance advice. Laws and regulations regarding workers' compensation insurance are complex and vary by state and by specific circumstances. Therefore, readers are encouraged to consult with a qualified legal or insurance professional to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem they might have.

Mordechai Kamenetsky

Mordechai Kamenetsky, co-founder and lead agent of Kickstand, is recognized as an expert in workers' compensation. He is passionate about helping small businesses manage risks and lower their workers' comp costs. In his articles, he educates readers and clients on the intricacies of workers' comp insurance.

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