So, your workplace has just experienced an incident resulting in the injury or illness of a worker. Now what?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that employers conduct investigations of workplace incidents using a four-step system. This article provides an overview of how to conduct a thorough incident investigation after an incident has been reported. Employers can follow this workflow to be sure all stages of an investigation are completed appropriately.
No time to read? We've put together a complete guide to performing a comprehensive incident investigation that you can download and take with you.
An incident investigator's first priority should be to ensure that the incident site is safe and secure. In some situations, you may have to travel a significant distance to reach the place where an incident occurred. In those cases, you should immediately contact on-site management to make sure that company protocols are being followed.
As you approach the area, it's important to be cautious. Make sure you’ve equipped yourself with any personal protective equipment (PPE) that’s needed to enter the area, either because it’s normally required for workers in that space or because the incident has created a need for it.
Once you make it to the scene of the incident, verify that anyone injured has received appropriate medical assistance. You'll also need to confirm that any equipment involved has been de-energized.
Once everyone is safe, take photos or video recordings of the scene as soon as possible, before equipment or materials are moved. Prevent material evidence from being altered as much as possible. You can use cones, tape, and/or guards to protect sensitive areas. If work has resumed in the area, make sure it is not compromising the incident site in any way.
As you review the site, depending upon the circumstances of the incident, you may want to record items such as:
Instead of fussing with paper forms, you also may want to consider using a Mobile EHS app to document your findings. Mobile incident recording apps (like Vector EHS's!) make it easy to take and link photos, pinpoint your exact GPS location, and allow you to quickly capture invaluable data without fussing with pen and paper.
Next, speak to on-site supervisors to collect names and contact information for all witnesses and involved employees and contractors. The information that witnesses provide is a crucial part of an incident investigation. If you can, try to interview witnesses as soon as possible. Witnesses will remember details with more clarity if you speak to them shortly after the incident occurred.
The following tips will help you to gather accurate information during your interviews:
Just as there are various schools of thought about how to conduct an incident investigation, there are also various schools of thought about how to conduct these interviews or even if you should conduct them, depending on the type of incident that's occurred. Some believe they are a great way to get raw, unfiltered information.
Others believe separating witnesses and conducting interviews in the manner described above runs the risk of frightening workers so that they won’t share the true story. Give these issues consideration, read up on alternative methods, and choose what’s best for your organization’s safety culture (or the
safety culture you want to help create).
Finally, keep in mind that while witness accounts are important, they aren’t the only source of data that needs to be examined and recorded. Depending upon the circumstances of the incident, you may also need to review and analyze information from training histories, maintenance schedules and logs, and inspection reports.
Throughout your fact-finding, you should document what you’ve learned in an incident report that can be shared with key team members upon its completion.
Typically, incident or accident investigation forms contain the following data:
Want a more effective way to complete incident investigations? Vector EHS's Incident Reporting Module allows you to store all incident data, conduct accident investigations, and determine root causes.
Once you’ve gathered all the necessary information, you can start performing a root cause analysis. This process allows you to discover underlying or systemic, rather than immediate, causes of an incident. Remember, correcting only an immediate cause may fix a symptom of a problem, but not the problem itself.
A simple, yet effective, way to identify root causes of an incident is to use the “Five Whys” method. In their fact sheet on root cause analyses, OSHA offers a helpful illustration of the “Five Whys” technique. In the agency’s example, a worker slips on the plant floor and falls.
An investigator using the “Five Whys” method would ask the following questions.
In this example, it took 5 whys to get to the root of an issue, but in practice, you may find yourself asking more or fewer questions to reach your conclusion.
Finally, develop a corrective action plan to resolve the immediate and root causes of the incident.
Each corrective action listed in your incident report should have a person assigned as the responsible party for the task, a set completion date, and a place to mark the completion of the item.
You should have some way to track if and when all corrective actions have been put into place. If you don’t track the completion of these corrective
measures, it’s easy for one (or several) to never get done.
Once you've finished preparing your report, the final step is to ensure that it is signed off by the supervisor who was on duty during the incident. Depending on the nature of the incident, you may also want to have witnesses and other involved parties review and sign off on the form as well.
These individuals should recheck the accuracy of all details before signing, and their contact information should also be recorded on the form should there be additional questions to answer later.
Once you've collected all the necessary signatures from involved parties, your incident investigation should now be complete and you can share your findings with management and workers.
Before communicating results, you should first determine who should get a copy of incident investigation reports, what format these reports should be in, and how quickly these reports should be created and distributed. In addition, you should also have determined what kind of information gets relayed to managers and general employees, and how that information is made public.
You may choose to not distribute the full incident investigation report in its original form to all workers. However, you should still communicate key findings of the report to the workers at the site.
Vector EHS Management's easy-to-use forms make it simple to collect data for multiple types of incidents, including near misses, vehicle and environmental incidents, and employee and non-employee injuries.
Users can analyze trends, perform root cause analysis, and assign corrective actions to better understand the causes of near misses and prevent serious incidents from occurring. With Vector EHS's automated reports and email alerts, responsible parties can receive reminders and status updates of open issues so that corrective actions are completed in a timely fashion.
Vector EHS's public web form also enables all of an organization’s stakeholders to report near misses and other types of incidents via a simple web link. Users can even report incidents using a mobile device or tablet with Vector EHS mobile app.