Risks are an inherent part of any business, especially to workers, property, or equipment. A good safety program that includes streamlined risk management and effective safety training may mitigate most of the safety hazards, but accidents can still occur. It's essential that any such accident (even a small one) is thoroughly investigated to find the root cause of the accident and prevent future incidents.

A workplace accident investigation aims to gather information and analyze it to uncover the cause of the incident so that it can be prevented from reoccurring. The investigation process includes gathering data through observations and interviews of witnesses, analyzing the data to find the root cause, and defining clear corrective actions to fix any loopholes in your safety program that may have caused the accident. Implementing these corrective actions is an important part of the investigation process.

In this article, we’ll highlight the best practices to follow so that your accident investigation is as effective as possible.

1. Identify If It’s an Accident or Near Miss

Accidents that result in injury or property damage need to be investigated, but so do near misses that could have caused injury under slightly different conditions. Even though they don’t actually result in an injury, near misses should be investigated just as thoroughly as accidents. 

Accidents and near misses, together called "incidents," can be investigated in a similar way. The difference is the questions to ask while investigating. While reporting the incident investigation, it's also useful to specify whether an accident or near miss was investigated.

2. Have an Accident Investigation Plan Ready

Ideally, everything you need to investigate the accident (including a concrete plan with fixed investigation procedures, the necessary forms, a team, etc.) must be ready before an accident even occurs. This makes your accident investigation process efficient and reliable. You won't have to fumble and waste valuable time after the accident before investigating it.

The plan should include: 

  • A team to investigate when an accident occurs, comprised of relevant employees, supervisors, and safety experts
  • Forms to record observations, interview notes, analysis of root causes, and corrective action steps
  • A kit with essentials such as work gloves, a camera, barricade tape, and a flashlight

3. Create a Competent Accident Investigation Team

Accident investigation: workers wearing hard hats high-fiving each other

The makeup of the accident investigation team depends on the area where the accident occurred and the job of the injured person or people involved in the incident. Explore these categories of potential team members.

Immediate Supervisor

The immediate supervisor of the area or the people involved should always be a member of the team. They're usually the most familiar with the procedures and circumstances surrounding the incident. They may be able to suggest effective corrective measures for future accident prevention. 

However, they may attempt to gloss over their own shortcomings or involvement in the incident. This can be prevented if the other members of the team are involved throughout the investigation and thoroughly review the accident investigation reports at the end.

Investigative Expert

An expert with a knowledge of accident causation and experience in investigative techniques is the ideal leader for an accident investigation team. 

Employees With Safety-Related Roles

Other members may include the operations manager, some maintenance and technical staff, safety officers, safety committee members, and someone well-versed in the industrial relations environment related to the incident. 

Legal Staff

If the incident involves legal consequences, a member of the company’s legal team should be involved. 

State-Required Team Members

Look at the state occupational safety regulations and OSHA compliance requirements, as some jurisdictions require the team to include specific members such as a representative from the local government, outside experts, or union representatives.

4. Train Your Accident Investigation Team Well

Your investigation team may be made up of experts in their field, including occupational health and safety, the specific accident scene, or first aid. However, to effectively understand the cause and prevent similar accidents in the future, every member of the team should be trained in investigation techniques. 

They should learn the factors that commonly cause accidents and how to analyze information to find the root cause of the accident. They need to know how to develop corrective actions to prevent future incidents. 

Root causes include: 

  • Physical hazards or unsafe conditions: A leaky roof causing slipping hazards, defective ladders, or rusty equipment, for example
  • Human behaviors: This could be things like using equipment without safety guards or not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Failure of management systems: For example, a lack of employee training or failure to enforce safety rules

The investigative team should know each of these root causes and be able to identify them when they complete the investigation.

5. Respond Quickly to Accidents

The best time to investigate an accident is immediately after it happens. 

Of course, before investigations begin, emergency response procedures should be implemented to safeguard any injured workers. This includes performing first aid, evacuating people from the accident scene and notifying everyone, including the worker's family. 

However, the next course of action should be investigating the accident. The quicker the investigation starts, the lower are the chances of any evidence being tampered with or lost, which improves the chances of an effective accident investigation. This is one of the reasons why an accident investigation plan, team, and any related forms and materials (such as a camera) should be kept ready to use at all times.

6. Focus on Finding the Root Cause, Not Assigning Blame

Personnel filling-out a form

Most workplace incidents don’t have a clear-cut cause. Neglect or unsafe work practices by a specific worker or workers may be part of the issue, but accidents and near misses usually have deeper causes behind them. 

The cause could be that the right safety gear wasn’t available or that the worker didn’t get regular safety training. It could also be that the cause of the incident was never considered while creating safety procedures.

So, when investigating the accident, the team needs to go beyond finding someone to blame. Instead, train them to identify loopholes and flaws in the process and safety procedures themselves that ultimately lead to the incident. The goal is to ensure that the incident and other similar accidents don’t happen again.

7. Document the Accident Investigation Well

Any accident investigation would be incomplete without thorough reporting. 

Record the actions taken and the details surrounding the investigation clearly and efficiently. Communicate this with all stakeholders so corrective actions can be taken. 

The actions outlined in the report need to be assigned to specific employees or teams, and regular follow-ups should be conducted to ensure that the corrective actions are actually implemented.

Automate Your Accident Investigation to Make it More Effective

The problem with complex activities like accident investigation is that they can get difficult and time-consuming and even lead to costly mistakes if done manually. 

The best way to do it effectively and without errors is by using an online platform to streamline the process. 

A cloud-based solution such as Pulpstream’s incident management system can make your investigations smoother and more efficient.

Using such a solution, you can gather and store all the relevant information and data including photographic and video evidence, interview and observation notes, and investigation forms in a streamlined, easily accessible place. 

Additionally, sophisticated analytics tools can automatically assess your data to find patterns and even the root cause. Reporting and communicating the results with stakeholders is as easy as the click of a button — you can set up the platform to automatically send the relevant documents to anyone in the organization.

Make your incident investigation team’s work easier with Pulpstream. Book a free demo today!