Keys to an Effective Accident Investigation

The nature of a workplace accident will determine the extent of the investigation, the resources that will be needed, what types of investigative processes will be required and who will need to be interviewed. The following basic steps should be taken to complete a formal investigation:

  • Gather information
  • Interview witnesses
  • Review existing documentation
  • Organize and analyze the facts
  • Develop the sequence of events
  • Determine and report the cause(s)
  • Make recommendations
  • Implement solution(s)
  • Write the report

Gather Information

Your primary goal in this step is to gather accident information that can give critical clues into the causes of the accident. To achieve this goal, you must first secure the accident scene. An accident scene can be secured with cones, caution tape, or by locking a door or stationing a person to watch the scene. Once the accident scene is secure, you can collect information by photographing or sketching the scene; recording video; or reviewing recorded information, such as security videos.

Interview Witnesses

Witnesses are the best resource for gaining an understanding of how the accident occurred and the conditions that led to the accident. Witnesses include people who saw the accident, the injured person(s) and others who may have contributed to the accident. This can include supervisors and trainers, maintenance personnel and anyone else tied to the investigation.

When interviewing these people, it is important to remember emotions can run high in the wake of an accident, especially a catastrophic one. Try to put the witnesses at ease by:

  • Explaining your purpose and role.
  • Sincerely expressing concern regarding the accident and desire to prevent a similar occurrence.
  • Listening with a calm, attentive and unhurried demeanor.
  • Keeping an open mind.

Review Existing Documentation

When searching for information, investigations should not stop at the scene of the accident, physical evidence or the individuals involved. Documents related to the incident can provide insight into the causes of an accident, especially root causes. Some examples of useful documents are:

  • Technical data sheets
  • Health and Safety Committee minutes (in situations where a Safety Committee exists)
  • Inspection reports
  • Company policies/procedures
  • Maintenance reports
  • Injury and illness logs
  • Past accident reports
  • Job-hazard analyses and safe-work procedures
  • Training records and reports
  • Work schedules
  • Other documents that may substantiate safety-related systems in the area of the accident

Organize and Analyze the Facts

When all the evidence is collected and interviews are complete, a timeline of the accident should emerge. Each event on the timeline describes an actor and action. The actor effects change through action or inaction. Actors do not have to be employees; equipment or processes can impact the system to precipitate an accident.

It may take a great deal of time to determine any weaknesses in management systems or other root causes that contributed to the conditions and practices associated with the accident. [Read more…]