What is an occupational accident?

Occupational accidents are incidents which

  • meet the definition of an accident,
  • take place under conditions specified by law, and
  • result in an effect that is causally linked to the incident.

Definition of accident

An accident means 

  • a sudden and unforeseen event arising from an external factor
  • that causes the employee to be injured or develop an illness.

External factor

An external factor may be, for example, slippery surfaces, a pothole, an object falling from above, or a sharp object that impacts with the hand. An external factor may also refer to acid, a virus, or bacteria.

Pain induced by work-related postures

Under certain circumstances, muscle or tendon pain is also compensable as an accident, even when a clear external factor cannot be demonstrated. In most cases, this involves straining the back when lifting heavy loads. For these injuries, compensation may be paid for up to six weeks.

Sudden event

The suddenness of an event means that the incident takes place quickly and without warning, such as slipping, falling or colliding with an object.

Unforeseen event

An unforeseen event means that the incident occurs independent of the employee’s own will. If an employee deliberately injures him/herself, it is not an accident.

Consequence and causality

An injury or illness or the consequent death of the injured person is compensable as an occupational accident. In most cases, the effect is a clear physical injury, such as a wound, bruise or fracture. The effect may also be psychological, such as an acute stress reaction to a threatening event that has occurred at work.

There must be a causal link between the effect and the incident. In most cases, such as when a knife hitting the hand results in a wound, the causality is unambiguous. In more ambiguous cases, a probability assessment is used. This evaluates whether the accident was intense enough and had a suitable mechanism to cause the injury or disease in question. The assessment of causality is based on medical knowledge and experience on the emergence mechanisms of injuries.

Examples of a lack of causal link

An employee loses footing on a ladder and grabs the ladder, using the right hand. The hand twists into an external rotation, the employee loses grip, and falls. As a result of the incident, the employee’s shoulder becomes sore and is diagnosed with a rotator cuff tear. The emergence of shoulder pain immediately after the incident is insufficient on its own to establish a causal link between the incident and the tear diagnosed in the shoulder. External rotation of the arm does not exert sufficient energy to cause a rotator cuff tear in the shoulder. The event will, at most, result in a strain injury. A causal link between the event and the tear would be more likely if the employee had remained hanging from the ladder from the right arm.   

Circumstances of occupational accidents

The third element of the definition of occupational accident concerns the circumstances of covered accidents. About 95 per cent of incidents covered as occupational accidents occur during work, within the premises of the place of work, while commuting, or during lunch breaks within the vicinity of the place of work.

Accidents during work

Accidents during work are accidents suffered by employees during the course of their work. The content of the accident is determined by the tasks assigned to the employee and the methods of work.

Examples of accidents during work

  • The employee is carrying a metal sheet that slips and cuts the employee’s fingers.
  • The employee is stocking shelves, trips on a pallet and twists a knee in the fall.
  • While working from home, the laptop falls on the employee’s foot, causing a bruise.

Accidents that occur whilst performing the duties of a local union representative, occupational safety representative or other employee representative, or performing tasks on behalf of the employer or during work-related travel, are treated as work-time accidents.

Accidents at the workplace

Accidents at a workplace may also occur in activities other than work tasks. Accidents are covered as occupational accidents if they occur in the course of activities normally associated with being at the workplace.

Examples of accidents at the workplace

  • The employee slips and falls in the locker room during a lunch break.
  • During an exercise break, another employee’s stick scratches and causes a wound.
  • An employee endures a cut while peeling an orange in the break room.

Accidents during a commute

An accident that occurs while commuting between the home and workplace is compensable as an occupational accident if it takes place during activities normally associated with travel, and the journey is associated with normal commuting to work. A commute may also include a minor detour from the route due to childcare, visit to a grocery store, or any other similar reason.

Examples of accidents during a commute

  • The employee gets in a car crash while driving to work in the morning.
  • The employee slips on an icy sidewalk while walking home from work.

Accidents that occur during a detour from the commute route, such as at a daycare or grocery store, are not compensated.

Accidents during meals and recreational breaks

An accident that happens outside the location of the working area is covered as an occupational accident if it takes place during normal activities associated with a meal or recreational break.

Examples of accidents during meals and recreational breaks

  • During a meal at a restaurant in the vicinity of the workplace, a chair breaks and the employee twists an arm in the fall.
  • During a meal break, the employee takes a short walk in the vicinity of the workplace and trips on the sidewalk.
  • The employee visits a store in the vicinity of the workplace to buy lunch and trips in the store aisle.

Accidents in special circumstances

The Workers’ Compensation Act also specifies eight special circumstances which are covered as occupational accidents. These include, among other things, accidents during work-related training and recreation, and accidents during certain medical appointments.