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The Practical Employer

Do You Know What to do When an Employee Dies on the Job?

Unfortunately it happens. In fact, according to OSHA it’s happened 357 times in 2017. Here are nine steps to follow.

It’s news an employer never wants to deliver.

“I’m sorry, but your spouse (or partner, child, or other family member) had an accident at work and unfortunately passed away.”

But it happens. In fact, according to OSHA it’s happened 357 times already this year.

Indeed, it happened just yesterday, at Cleveland State University. A piece of sheet metal fell and killed a construction worker.

Do you know what to do if one of your employees dies on the job?

Here are nine steps to follow:
1. Call 911, ASAP. There is never a reason to wait to inform the authorities, period.

2. Immediately thereafter, notify the employee’s emergency contact person, preferably in person. This news should not be delivered over the phone if at all possible. If you must deliver the news via a phone call, arrange for a company representative to meet the family, likely at the hospital.

3. If the death is work-related, contact your nearest OSHA Area Office, or OSHA’s national 24-hour hotline at 1-800-321-OSHA. All fatalities must be reported to OSHA within 8 hours.

4. Notify executives and HR, and other employees with a need to know what happened.

5. Notify your remaining employees of the fact of the fatality, and let them know that details will follow.

6. Follow your internal procedures for contact with the media. If you do not have any such internal procedures, or if you are not comfortable with anyone in your organization facing the media, engage a public relations firm, as soon as possible. You will need someone to say something. “No comment” is not a good statement under these circumstances; it will look like you’re hiding something.

7. Show extreme sensitivity to the family of the deceased. Who do they want to be their contact person? Who will disseminate funeral arrangements and how? What are the family’s wishes regarding flowers, donations, calling, visitations, and other contact? How and when does the family want to handle necessary employment issues (medical benefits, life insurance, workers’ comp, retirement accounts, etc.)?

8. Designate one internal contact person to disseminate information to employees, and for employees to ask any questions. Unless the family directs otherwise, instruct employees not to contact the family.

9. Arrange for grief counseling or other mental-health services for those employees who witnessed the accident, or are otherwise impacted.

Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.