Workplace accidents occur each and every day across all industries. According to the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 there was an incidence rate of 104 cases per 10,000 full-time workers that required days away from work to recover. Fatal incidents in 2015 were 3.38 per 100,000 workers.

Although we all hope for zero accidents in our workforce, it is critical that every accident that does occur is thoroughly investigated so that steps can be taken to keep it from happening again. In this article, we'll look at how to properly investigate workplace accidents.

What Is an Accident?

An accident is the final event of an unplanned process that results in injury or illness to an employee and, in some cases, causes property damage. An event occurs when an actor performs an action. That is, a person or thing will do something that may result in injury or even death

Accident vs. Incident

Unlike an accident, which results in an injury, an incident is defined as an unexpected event that did not cause injury or damage but had the potential to do so. An incident is also commonly referred to as a near miss or a dangerous occurrence (for more, see 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 any legal requirements
  • Determine the costs incurred as a result of the accident
  • Determine compliance with applicable safety regulations
  • Process worker compensation claims

Now that we have the why of it, here are 10 critical steps to take when an accident occurs (to start making use of them, download this Accident Investigation Form).

1.Take Immediate Action and Form an Investigation Team

Whenever an accident occurs, an accident investigation team should be formed and appropriate and immediate actions should be taken. This process should also apply to incidents.

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 persons involved in the accident. Therefore, members of the 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 initiate 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 (or incidents) must often be reported to the relevant authorities in accordance with the applicable statutory requirements. The following accidents should be reported to the authorities:

  • Fatalities
  • Injuries requiring hospitalization
  • Any person requiring immediate medical treatment as a result of exposure to chemicals
  • Major spills, emissions or any other serious environmental impact, as specified in the appropriate environmental legislation (see Top Tips for Preventing Chemical Spills in the Workplace to learn more).

4. Investigate and Develop Corrective Actions

All accidents should be investigated. The accident investigation process is comprised of three principles, and each principle is further reduced into six steps. We'll look at those below.

5. Gather Information

Secure the Accident Scene: The first step in an effective accident investigation procedure is to secure the accident scene as soon as possible, so you can begin collecting initial data. However, your first responsibility is to make sure the victim is cared for. It is important to note that two things may change after an accident has occurred: material evidence and a person's memory.

Collect Facts About What Happened: Once the accident scene has been secured, you should begin gathering evidence immediately from as many sources as possible. One of the biggest challenges that investigators face is being able to determine what is relevant to what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. Therefore, it is important to identify items that may help answer these questions (find out about Using Rich Media to Enhance EHS Reporting).

6. Analyze the Facts

Develop the Sequence of Events: At this stage of the investigation process, it is critical to accurately determine the sequence of events in the accident process. Once the sequence of events has been developed, you can then study each event to determine the related hazardous conditions, unsafe behaviors and the actions taken or not taken that contributed to the accident, as well as system weaknesses such as inadequate or missing programs, plans, policies, processes, and procedures.

Determine the Causes: After using the information gathered to develop an accurate sequence of events, the next step is to conduct an analysis of each event to determine the causes. As such, the following analyses are conducted:

  • 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 ensure recommendations are effective, appropriate hazard control strategies must be implemented to eliminate or reduce the specific surface causes of the accident. This can be achieved by following the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls (learn more in The Hierarchy of Hazard Control).

Write the Report: The manner in which you present your findings will shape perceptions and subsequent corrective actions. The accident report form should include:

  • Background
  • Description of the accident
  • Findings
  • Recommendations
  • Summary
  • Review and follow-up actions
  • Attachments (photos, sketches, interview notes, and so on)

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 that is 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 management systems.

10. Record the Details

Records and documentation of all accident notification, reporting, investigation and corrective actions should be kept. Wherever applicable, records should be kept for the duration required by legislation.

Safety Wrap

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. You must be as objective and as accurate as possible. Therefore, you must report your findings in a comprehensive manner so that management will adopt your recommendations for improving its safety processes.

Bear in mind that if the accident investigation doesn't fix the discrepancies within the work system, it is essentially a waste of time, effort and resources. Instead of a fix, you end up with another accident waiting to happen.