Everyone dreads the cry going up from the yard: “Help! The forklift’s overturned and Fred’s trapped.” Or the cry that Fred’s hand got into the truss press, or the debarker, or that he’s lost a finger to the docking saw. Regardless of the injury – Fred is in trouble and everyone on site needs to know how to respond.

It is these types of hypothetical scenarios that senior managers should already have a comprehensive plan in place for. Employees should also be consulted and trained as well. It’s an excellent idea to have the procedure written down and posted somewhere prominent and easily accessible, because when adrenaline starts coursing through a person’s veins it is difficult to think clearly and logically.


The first priority in this type of situation is the provision of first aid. As part of a systematic workplace health and safety (WHS) assessment, management and employees should jointly identify the need for first aid qualified employees. The relevant employees are then trained, and appropriate equipment is made available to them.

WHS state and territory authorities have excellent guidance material available to assist businesses to identify their first aid needs. No actions should be taken that would cause further injuries. Either to the injured person, or to any other employees.

If an employee is trapped – ensure that rescue personnel are requested when calling for help.


Call 000 and ask for appropriate assistance – the employee will need to describe the situation, and may need to request rescue personnel (as well as paramedics). It is quite possible that local police will also be despatched and, depending on the protocols, the call taker is obliged to follow.


As much as possible it is crucial to preserve the scene of the incident to assist with the investigation(s) after the casualty has been removed. This is especially important if the incident is notifiable.


All states and territories mandate that any workplace death, serious injury, serious illness or dangerous incident be reported as soon as possible to the safety authority.

Serious injuries usually include amputations, admission to hospital as an in-patient, degloving/scalping, some fractures, eye injuries and serious burns.

Dangerous incidents include spillage of substances, explosion or fire, electric shock or the fall or release of anything from a height. These incidents may not result in anyone getting hurt, but they do have the potential to cause serious injury or illness.

It is senior management’s responsibility to know which incidents are reportable. Detailed information is available from state or territory workplace safety authority websites.


Fill out the register of injuries as soon as possible after other tasks have been completed. Templates are available on www.workcover.com.au or www.worksafe.com.au


The purpose of reporting deaths, serious injuries and illnesses, and dangerous incidents is to allow the government authority to investigate and decide whether prosecution is appropriate. For this reason – if the safety authority wants to interview any member of senior management in relation to an incident then serious consideration should be given to having a lawyer present who specialises in workplace health and safety law.

In addition to investigations carried out by external parties – the business would also specify in their WHS management system that an investigation must be conducted. The purpose is to identify how the WHS management system failed to prevent the incident. The primary outcome of this investigation could be, for example, changes in safe operating procedures for the task that was being undertaken.

In line with a general obligation to consult with employees about matters that relate to their health and safety – managers would include an employee representative in their team investigating the incident.


If an employee dies, or is seriously injured, other employees may be adversely affected. The employer’s responsibility for employees’ health and safety extends to their psychological wellbeing.  If an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is not set up for employees then employers need to consider arranging post-incident counselling.

People who have witnessed, or been involved in, a serious workplace incident consistently say that it can haunt them. It is always possible that employees may develop psychological injuries months, or even years, after an incident. Everyone needs to keep an eye out for one another, and on senior management – their psychological safety is important too.


Make sure that the business provides assistance to the injured employee’s family, especially with the administrative tasks surrounding lodging a worker’s compensation claim. Communicate with the employee and their family throughout recovery. Facilitate an early return to work plan when medically advised.


Emma Watt is an independent industrial relations consultant with almost 20 years’ experience in the timber industry.

Phone: 0411 708 073 or Email: emma@emmawatt.com.au