OHS Canada Magazine

What if someone dies at work? 4 areas to consider

COVID-19 should spur review of workplace fatality plan


The COVID-19 outbreak is forcing employers to look at the possibility that their employees or contractors may infect co-workers — and some may die.

This type of pandemic has not happened in our lifetime, but workplace tragedies are certainly not new. In 2017, 951 Canadian workers died from work-related injuries and illnesses.

Now is the time for executives to carefully examine their internal policies to make certain their company has a strong plan in place for workplace fatalities — no matter the cause. Of course, your first priority is always to make sure your employees are safe but you also have an obligation to protect your company from financial disaster.

While the value of human life is incalculable, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) contains rules and penalties that apply when regulations are violated. Fines can reach up to $1.5 million per offence for corporations, plus fines of up to $100,000 per violation and jail time up to one year for individual company directors.

Executives should review their company’s workplace fatality plan to see if it provides enough direction in the following four areas:

Immediate steps after a worker dies

Your plan should include protocols for contacting emergency medical technicians, police and other applicable OHS options.

The workers’ compensation requirement directs employers to notify appropriate government officials within 72 hours after becoming aware of an injury or illness.

Dealing with potential negligence

The plan should include details for allowing authorities to inspect your business, requiring drug tests for all employees and removing any hazardous elements at the workplace.

Assisting the family

Identify people who can notify family members in a caring and mature manner and require it be done in-person.

The company should provide for funeral expenses, flowers, food and additional support for the family. The plan should note that executives and all interested employees are allowed to attend the funeral.

Workers’ compensation, insurance

Protocols should be in place to contact insurance companies and workers’ compensation carriers. These procedures should make sure employees have direct access to claims adjusters to speed up the process.

Managers should be aware of the laws related to providing information as well as their own rights. They also need information to be prepared to assist with interviews and documentation, such as certifications and training logs.

A recent study co-sponsored by Avetta, a global supplier of online supply chain risk management, found 11 per cent of respondents were able to avoid citation or fine by providing proof that an offending contractor had been sufficiently audited and passed. Avetta created a white paper from the research.

Managers have traditionally kept track of certifications, training logs and insurance coverage with spreadsheets and physical files, making it difficult to ensure all records are up to date. Companies should consider digitization to make sure these critical records are online or on a computer.

We are living at a time when we should be acting with a sense of urgency to get ready — before it’s too late.

Martin Muyomba is a quality, health, safety and environmental (QHSE) professional for Avetta in Calgary.