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 Accident/Incident Investigation Tips and Tools

All too often in the typical organization, you'll hear people griping about doing another accident investigation. What a pain! Get it done any way you can! Strange, isn't it? If your safety and health program works and you get to zero accidents, you don't have to do investigations. But, until you get there, investigations open a great window into the culture and nature of the organizations and give you a clear look into why things are going wrong. And, in case you hadn't noticed, an accident is a thing gone wrong.

First, let's be clear on the purpose of accident investigations. This is a positive process! Our intent is prevention and correction. We're trying to change the culture! It is never blame! In business and industry, blame is counter-productive. Sure, criminal investigations and insurance companies need to find blame; that's how charges are assessed. But, that's not the case in the workplace.

Next, let's consider what accidents we need to investigate. If they are to serve their purpose, you've got to know about them. As a general rule, your should investigate:

  • All injuries ... even the very minor ones.
  • All accidents with potential for injury.
  • Property damage, product damage, and "near miss" situations so you can consider the root causes.
  • Every injury or illness entered on the OSHA Injury and Illness Log.

How the investigation gets conducted is a matter of company policy and assigned responsibility. Some companies call an accident investigation team for every incident. In others, the safety director does the investigation. Sometimes, several people do an independent examination of the circumstances and all make entries on the investigation form. However it's done, two people really must be involved if at all possible. One is the injured or impacted employee. He or she can clear up a lot of confusion by telling what happened and why it occurred.

The other person who needs to be involved is the supervisor or team leader. He or she should be accountable for accidents in his/her area, hopefully knows the situation and the people best, has a personal interest in cause identification, can take immediate corrective action, and needs this opportunity to show leadership.

Much is available on how to conduct an investigation, but remember to preserve the physical environment and records. You'll need these for more complex investigations.

As for the report form, a wide variety are available from vendors and others. Pick what works. Again, a couple of tips are pertinent here. First, use the report for prevention. Don't hide it! Second, do not allow anyone to include the words " I told the person to be more careful" under corrective action. They finger the injured individual, leave the solution totally up to him or her, and show that you don't have a clue how to deal with the situation.

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