How should an employer handle the onsite death of an employee?

Author: Julie H. Cox

If any work-related death occurs on the worksite, it must be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This includes heart attacks or other such deaths that occur while performing job duties.OSHA requires that any employee fatality be reported by calling or going to the local OSHA office, calling the federal OSHA office at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or filing a report online within eight hours of the employer learning of the death.

An employer should have an emergency plan in place before a death ever occurs. The procedures to handle a death onsite should be covered in safety and emergency preparedness training.

As with any emergency, 911 should be called in order for the incident to be reported to authorities. Other employees need to be moved away from the scene to limit their visual exposure to a disturbing situation and to minimize their potential interference with evidence. Someone should be in charge of contacting the employee's family - ideally, this will be done right away by a designated individual, such as the employee's supervisor. He or she should have a basic list of points to cover when calling, as designated in the employer's emergency plan.

After the incident has been reported and officials have helped take charge of the situation, any employee who witnessed or was involved should be questioned about the incident and what they saw.

The employer's benefits department should determine what insurance payments and final wages are due to the family of the deceased employee and issue the payments as quickly as possible.

Authorities and OSHA officials, if necessary, will help determine the cause of death and whether steps must be made to prevent future incidents and whether the employer is at fault regarding dangerous working conditions.