An accident investigation is a systematic process of collecting and analyzing all the information pertaining to any incidents resulting in injury, illness, or death. Although it has long been referred to as an accident investigation, OSHA now strongly urges using the term incident. This is to highlight the fact that workplace incidents are not in fact random but could be prevented.
OSHA also encourages incident investigations for all near misses – close calls that could have resulted in injury had circumstance been slightly different. Conducting an investigation is key to stop repeat injuries but addressing the cause of a near miss can prevent future injuries.
4 Steps to an Incident Investigation
Incident investigations are scientific in nature and it is important for every workplace to establish a detailed procedure. As a starting off point though, there is a basic four-step process outlined in OSHA’s Incident Investigation Guide for Employers:
- Preserve & Document Scene: If necessary, use cones or barricade tapes to ensure no material evidence is removed or modified. The investigator should take note of the date of the investigation, the name of the injured employee, a description of the injury, where the incident took place, and any other pertinent information.
- Gather Information: Interviews should be conducted and accounts recorded from those involved and witnesses. Other sources of information to collect at this stage include equipment manuals, industry standard documents, training records, company policies, etc.
- Determine Root Causes: Identifying the root cause of an incident is key to the whole investigation and it is important to distinguish determining root cause and finding fault or blame. If an employee was injured as a result of not following safe work procedures, investigators not put the blame on them but instead ask “Why?” until the true cause can be determined. The goal of this step is to truly get to the bottom of the incident, implement corrective actions, and prevent future injuries.
- Implement Corrective Actions: Finally, corrective actions are implemented based on the totality of the investigation; this step must be completed in order for the investigation to be closed. These actions should directly address the root cause and employers should plan long-term for sustaining these corrective actions.
Investigating incidents and accidents thoroughly should be a key component of any safety and health program. They are a tool that assists the program in identifying and controlling hazards. Incident investigations are not meant to go over what happened, but really to uncover the underlying factors and prevent future accidents.