Nearly five of every 100 employees in the food manufacturing industry experienced injury or illness due to a work-related accident in 2016, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, no level of preparedness can eliminate all workplace accidents, but employers can greatly reduce the risk associated with these incidents by creating and implementing a thorough accident response plan. The plan should detail the specific actions to take in the event of a workplace accident or injury, and be updated regularly to prevent similar situations from occurring again.

Here are four important steps to cover in your accident response plan:

  1. Get the injured worker to safety.

When a traumatic accident occurs, your first response may be to freeze or panic. But, those first few seconds or minutes could be the difference between life and death. Avoid that deer-in-headlights response by laying out clear steps that each employee can follow to get his/her fellow worker to safety as quickly as possible. Include even the most obvious steps, such as calling 911 or alerting a supervisor, to give workers a step-by-step guide to follow and keep them moving. This, along with proper training, will ensure that employees are prepared to act immediately in an emergency situation.

  1. Handling the paperwork.

As soon as the worker is safe and being cared for, witnesses should write down as many details as they can while they are still fresh. As a precautionary measure, employers should appoint a team of employees to formally gather all the information about the incident and file an official accident report. This information may come in handy later if a more extensive investigation or litigation arises.

Submitting the necessary paperwork in a timely manner will also help the investigation go smoothly. It’s important to report the incident to your workers’ compensation insurance carrier as soon as possible. OSHA also requires that companies fill out OSHA 300 forms to report all work-related illnesses and injuries.

  1. Craft a public message.

Depending on the severity of the situation, the public and media may have a lot of questions about what occurred. To get in front of the speculation and rumors, you’ll need to get your story out first. You don’t want to be reacting to someone else’s story or playing catch-up.

Have preliminary talking points ready that can be refined as needed to suit the specific situation. Once it is clear what the company wants to say, appoint a company spokesperson responsible for handling all public communications. This person should provide the key facts and share exactly how the company is handling the incident as well as how it plans to avoid a similar situation in the future. Be clear that the company takes the situation very seriously.

  1. Plan for recovery and return.

Nearly 900,000 occupational injuries and illnesses resulted in days away from work in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With these absences come the indirect costs of employee replacement and training. To keep these costs low and productivity high, consider establishing a return-to-work (RTW) program as part of your accident preparedness plan.

The longer an injured worker is on leave, the less likely that person will return to work, according to the Job Accommodation Network, Washington, D.C. That’s why it’s important to encourage the injured individual to get well and support his/her return to work. Let him/her know what resources and options are available – like the ability to temporarily move to part-time or light-duty work.

Serious workplace injuries can be a matter of life or death, so an effective emergency response plan can save lives on the job. Take the time to make it right. And, remember that it’s not a once-and-done kind of thing. Evaluate the accident response plan frequently to ensure it’s up to date and share any changes with your team.