Emergency response, incident reporting and investigation

Preparing for emergencies
Despite best efforts to manage risks, incidents and accidents will inevitably occur from time to time.  This is foreseeable and it is important to plan for such eventualties and ensure that local risk assessments take account of what may go wrong and include suitable measures to manage and mitigate the effects.  The most typical incidents that occur within the University include minor injuries, spillages and occasional health issues affecting students and staff.  Two examples are given below, but units should consider the nature and likelihood of foreseeable emergencies within their area and make sure that they have arrangements in place to manage likely occurences.

The most common requirement that will affect all management units is a need for basic first aid provision.  As a minimum, this means having access to first aid equipment (e.g. a first aid box) and a means to call upon trained first aiders in more serious cases.  Normally, one of more people will need to be appointed to check first aid boxes regularly and make sure they remain stocked.  This person does not need to be a first aider.  In a low-risk office environment this level of provision may be all that is needed.  Security can provide first aid and other emergency support and local staff should be trained in how to contact them in an emergency.  

Some units may conclude that the risk of injury is such that a higher level of provision than that outlined above is needed, including trained first aiders within the work area.  In that case SEPS can provide appropriately certificated training on a cost recovery basis.  This higher level of provision is likely to be required where practical work is conducted in laboratory, clincal or workshop settings, or where fieldtrips are taking place.

In all cases, training in the arrangements for contacting Security or a local first aider should be provided to staff and, where appropriate, to students as part of their local safety induction.  An explanation of the emergency contact arrangements is given in the University safety induction video and is also on this SEPS webpage Emergencies.

Spillage of chemical or biological materials is another common type of incident and units who handle such substances should plan for foreseeable spillage or releases that are likely to occur.  This will normally mean developing written spill procedures and providing suitable equipment and training, including periodic practical drills, to allow staff to manage incidents appropriately.

Different types of risk will exist in each department and it is for the head of unit, assisted by local staff, to ensure that these have been identified and that measures are in place to deal with likley and foreseeable incidents. 

Reporting of incidents
Whenever any adverse incident with a potential risk to safety occurs, a report should be submitted to SEPS. This includes both near-misses and incidents resulting in injury.  Work-related ill heath and incidents and near misses that occur whilst away from the University, for example during work/study-related travel or fieldwork, must also be reported.  Details of the reporting system are on our Report an incident page.

Heads of management unit must make sure that a robust incident reporting system is established locally to ensure that all safety-related incidents are promptly reported to SEPS.  Staff and students must be provided with information and training to make them aware of the need to report and of the mechanisms for this.

The purpose of this reporting is primarily to help the University identify potentially dangerous situations and make sure that corrective action is taken to prevent a recurrence.  There is also a legal requirement for the University to submit formal reports to the Health and Safety Executive of some classes of incident. There are subject to time limits and so all internal incident reports must be submitted promptly, ideally within no more than 5 days of the event.

Incident must be reported to SEPS regardless of whether they have also been submitted via other routes such as a Helpdesk report, 'Don't Walk By' (for Estates) or through other systems.

Investigation of incidents
Head of unit should establish local processes to investigate all incidents that occur during activities under their unit's control and establish arrangements to review and analyse the findings from such investigations.  Although some incidents will arise as a result of unforeseen and unavoidable causes, others will occur as the result of failings in safety management.  These may be inadequacies in maintenance arrangements, training, working practices or other cause.  The purpose of the incident investigation is to consider not only the immediate reason for any incident but also to identify any underlying causes.  Often the immediate cause of an accident is obvious but some level of management investigation may be needed to identify whether underlying factors have led to the incident. 

The depth of investigation needed will vary, ranging from a very simple enquiry of the injured person to a more formal process in complex cases.  Those directly in charge of the work should always make basic enquiries about any incident that has happened under their supervision as a matter of normal routine.  More serious incidents should be investigated by managers of an appropriate level of seniority and by Local Safety-Co-ordinators.  SEPS will often request additional information on incidents, including details of the local investigation findings and may investigate some incidents directly.  External enforcing authorities and insurers may also investigate incidents reported to them.

Reports on incident investigations should be submitted to the line manager(s) responsible for the work and, where the findings warrant it, to the Head of the management unit.  The local safety committee should receive and review incident reports and recommendations arising from these.