We all wish we could achieve a zero accident workplace, but that's simply not possible. Accidents happen, no matter the industry and no matter how light the workload.
There are steps you can take, however, to reduce the frequency and severity of accidents. One of the most critical ones is to thoroughly investigate every accident so you can identify the factors that led to it and put measures in place to prevent a future occurrence.
In this article, we'll look at how to properly investigate accidents in your workplace.
What Is an Accident?
Let's start by asking a basic question. Before we talk about investigating accidents, let's define the thing we're investigating.
An accident is the final event of an unplanned process that results in injury or illness to an employee. In some cases, it might cause property damage instead or in addition to harm to an employee.
Accident vs. Incident
An incident is defined as an unexpected event that has the potential to cause injury, illness, or property damage. It includes accidents but also unplanned events that resulted in no harm.
When an incident does not cause harm or damage, it is referred to as a "near miss."
While it is critical that you investigate every accident that takes place on your worksite or on remote job sites while employees are on the clock, it is also considered a best practice to investigate near misses.
(Learn more in Near Misses: What They Are and Why You Should Report Them.)
Why You Should Investigate Accidents
OSHA’s Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines state that the primary purpose of investigating an accident is to ensure that its causes, as well as methods for preventing its re-occurrence, are identified.
Workplace accidents should also be investigated to:
- Fulfill legal requirements
- Determine the costs incurred as a result of the accident
- Determine compliance with applicable safety regulations
- Process worker compensation claims
10 Steps to Follow During an Accident Investigation
1.Take Immediate Action and Form an Investigation Team
Whenever an accident occurs, you should form an accident investigation team and take appropriate and immediate action to investigate and address the problem.
Members of the investigation team should include persons who are experienced in accident causation and investigative techniques, as well as persons who are fully knowledgeable of the work processes, procedures, and personnel involved in the accident.
Your accident investigation team can include:
- Immediate supervisors
- Employees with knowledge of the work
- Safety officers
- Health and safety committee members
- Union representatives, if applicable
- Employees with experience in investigations
- Outside experts
- Representatives from the local government
2. Report the Accident
The person directly involved in the accident, or that person’s immediate supervisor, should fill out an accident report.
Serious accidents (or incidents) should be reported immediately to the relevant manager in accordance with the company's emergency protocols.
3. Report to the Authorities
Accidents that are severe enough must be reported to the authorities in accordance to statutory laws and regulations.
The following accidents should always be reported to the authorities:
- Injuries requiring hospitalization
- Chemical exposure requiring immediate medical treatment
- Major spills, emissions, or any other event with serious environmental impact
4. Take Care of All Victim
Your first responsibility is to ensure that any and all accident victims are taken care of. Administer first aid, bring the victim to the hospital, or call first responders as needed.
5. Gather Information
Start by securing the scene of the accident. Do this as soon as possible so you can gather your initial data.
Two things can change over time after an accident has occurred: material evidence and witnesses' memories of the event. Gathering this information as soon as possible will ensure that you have more usable information.
One of the biggest challenges that investigators face is being able to determine what information is relevant to understanding what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. It's a good idea to identify this type of information ahead of time so that you can have a plan or process in place once the investigation is underway.
6. Analyze the Facts
Determine the sequence of events that led up to the accident. Then, study each event to identify any hazardous conditions, unsafe behaviors, and actions that were not taken which could have contributed to the accident.
Look for system weaknesses as well, such as inadequate or missing safety programs, plans, policies, processes, and procedures.
Once you've developed and analyzed the sequence of events, determine the causes of the events by conducting a series of analyses:
- Injury analysis
- Event analysis
- Systems analysis
- Direct cause of injury
- Surface cause of the accident
- Root cause of the accident
- Three levels of cause analysis
7. Implement Solutions
Recommend improvements to prevent future incidents. To ensure these recommendations are effective, appropriate hazard control strategies must be implemented to eliminate or reduce the specific surface causes of the accident.
(Learn more in The Hierarchy of Hazard Control.)
Write a thorough report. The manner in which you present your findings will shape perceptions and subsequent corrective actions. The accident report form should include:
- Description of the accident
- Review and follow-up actions
- Attachments (photos, sketches, interview notes, and so on)
(Lear more about Using Rich Media to Enhance EHS Reporting.)
8. Calculate the Costs
The cost (or potential cost) of an incident may be calculated as part of the investigation and included in the final report. This may include both direct costs and indirect costs.
(For more, see Connecting the Dots: Safety and Profitability.)
9. Conduct a Root Cause Analysis
A root cause analysis is a methodical process used to evaluate and estimate the risks associated with a particular hazard. The purpose of conducting a root cause analysis is to identify the underlying problems within the system of work, as well as safety management systems.
10. Record the Details
Keep reccords and documentation of all accident notification, reporting, investigation, and corrective actions. Keep these records for at least three years or for the period required by legislation in your jursidiction.
There you have it: everything there is to know about the accident analysis process and the methods for reporting it.
Never forget that your primary objective as an accident investigator is to uncover the causal factors that contributed to the accident. It is not your job to place blame.
Remember that corrective action is the goal. if the accident investigation merely records the event but does not prevent future incidents, it has been a waste of time, effort, and resources. Instead of a fix, you're just left with another accident waiting to happen.