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OSHA Directive: Communicating with Families of Victims of Workplace Fatalities

When someone suddenly dies in an accident, families want answers to questions: What happened? Who’s at fault? Will someone be punished for creating the situation or causing the accident? This also is true of the families of victims of workplace fatalities, and a new directive from OSHA guides OSHA representatives in communicating investigation procedures with family members following a workplace fatality.

The guidance ensures that OSHA representatives speak to the victim’s family early in the inspection process, establish a point of contact and maintain a working relationship with the family.

“OSHA is committed to working with families to explain the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. David Michaels. “This directive ensures that OSHA receives the necessary information from the family to assist in the investigation, and keeps the family informed throughout the investigation and settlement processes.”

Under the new directive, OSHA representatives will contact the victim’s family to explain the investigation process, offer them a timeline and provide updates throughout the investigation. Once the investigation is closed, OSHA will explain the findings to the family and address any questions. If an employer has been issued citations, OSHA will provide a copy of the citations to the family.

More information about the new directive is available on OSHA’s directive page. Employers must notify OSHA within 8 hours of a workplace fatality, including fatal heart attacks that occur at work. These reports may be made by telephone or in person to the nearest area office or by calling OSHA’s toll-free number, 1-800-321-OSHA [6742].

The wording of the directive indicates why it is important for OSHA representatives to establish a good relationship with the families of the victims of workplace fatalities. The directive states that the agences “places a high priority on communicating with families after a workplace fatality. Care must be taken to ensure sensitivity and tact are exercised during all communications.”

The directive explains that interactions with the next of kin typically can be accomplished by using a “three- phase approach” which includes:

  • An initial communication;
  • Follow-up communications throughout the inspection; and
  • Post-inspection communications.

“This will ensure that OSHA receives the necessary information about the victim, job history [and] co-workers, and keeps the next of kin informed from the beginning of the inspection and through the progression of the inspection until the case is either closed or becomes a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission,” the directive states.

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