In my 35 plus years experience in safety, accident investigation is an integral part in safety investigation. I have been involved in numerous accident investigations.
This information will provide the suggested way in what must be done in an effective accident investigation.
An accident can indicate a weakness within a contractor’s safety program. Accident investigations should be conducted by trained supervisory personnel to ensure that a comprehensive, objective and methodical approach is used.
The benefits of conducting a meaningful accident or near miss investigation are:
• Avoids the false impression that the investigation is a search for scapegoats.
• Prevents recurrence of the accident.
• Helps to determine direct and indirect costs of the accident.
• Meets regulatory requirements for investigating worker injuries.
• Maintains a good worker and management relationship, because the investigation shows the executive management is committed to the safety program and concerned about employee well-being.
There are several procedures that should be followed when investigating accidents.
• Review your company’s policy on accident investigations before beginning the investigation.
• Be prepared. Have the appropriate equipment on the job site and readily available such as camera, videotape player/recorder. Tape measure, report forms, sketch-pads and witnesses lined up.
• Begin investigating the accident immediately after the injured person if possible after first aid or medical treatment has been administered.
• Talk with witnesses and those who are familiar with conditions at the site before and after the accident occurred. Interview should occur immediately after the accident and preferably away from distractions of the work area.
• Probe for small details that might yield clues to the cause of the accident. Sometimes a clearer account of events can be attained by having the witness recite or reenact the events. Encourage witnesses to convey their ideas on how the accident occurred.
• Reconstruct the events leading up to the accident if possible.
• Determine the most probable cause of the accident. Accidents can be caused by 4 sources: (1) People, (2) Equipment, (3) Materials and (4) The work environment.
• Write a detailed, accurate report of the accident and follow company-reporting procedures.
• Correct any unsafe conditions or procedures discovered during the investigation or advise the proper authorities of corrections that need to be made.
When investigating a fatality the following additional procedures are suggested. These procedures are important for possible litigation purposes. They are:
• Cover the body, but do not move it. Rope or tape off the immediate area until the coroner or medical personnel arrive. This may require shutting down the job for the day.
• Take accurate measures and photograph the accident scene and its surroundings from all angles.
• Collect and identify any and all pertinent material. Mark the material in relation to the accident scene for use during construction.
• Notify CalOSHA immediately. A CalOSHA fine can range around $5,000.00 or more if not done within an 8-hour period. Also contact your appropriate insurance company immediately.
Persons appointed to investigate accidents should be experienced and able to carry out the investigation in an objective manner. The foreman/supervisor is usually the most qualified investigator and familiar with the workplace and knowledge of the employees involved along with their work activities. Depending on the severity of the accident, a trained superintendent or safety professional should also assist.
Jeffrey W. Vincoli, Basic Guide to Accident Investigation and Loss Control, 1994.
Thao Tiedt and Roger Kindley, A Lawyer’s Perspective on Accident Investigation – Professional Safety, August 1994.
Accident Investigation Procedure, Professional Safety, August 1985.
Incident Reporting, A Vital Part of Quality Safety Programs, Professional Safety, December 1993.