Learn the fundamentals of incident investigation to uncover safety risks and prevent reoccurrences.
Published 28 Apr 2023
Incident investigation analyzes and identifies the circumstances surrounding an undesirable event, such as an accident or a near miss. It aims to determine the causes and contributing factors that led to the event's occurrence. The goal is not to find someone to blame but rather to identify opportunities for improvement to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
A well-executed incident investigation can help organizations improve safety, reduce risk, and save lives. It allows them to learn from mistakes and take steps toward preventing similar events from happening again.
Typically, an incident investigation should be led by someone knowledgeable and experienced in investigating incidents. The investigation’s individual or team should also have access to all relevant information, including witnesses, documents, and physical evidence. The people doing the investigation should have the following:
Certain places have rules about conducting investigations together, with both management and workers present and knowledgeable investigators. Team members may include:
Incidents that require an investigation as part of incident management can include but are not limited to:
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The investigation process for a workplace incident includes four stages:
Preliminary investigations allow employers to identify hazardous conditions, procedures, or actions before proceeding safely with a complete investigation. As part of the protocol, employers must conduct a preliminary inquiry and submit an accompanying incident report within 48 hours of an incident.
The employer must take necessary actions to prevent the incident from recurring while the investigation is ongoing. If only some hazardous conditions, actions, or procedures are recognized as significant factors in the incident, temporary measures may include:
A complete investigation entails identifying the root cause or reasons behind an incident. The process consists of thoroughly examining the facts and circumstances to identify the root causes that contributed to the incident. Necessary inquiries are:
It is necessary to complete the investigation and report within 30 days of the incident.
Upon completion of a thorough investigation, as an employer, it is necessary to create a report outlining the unsafe conditions that were the cause of the incident and detailing the required corrective actions. Your organization must also establish steps to implement those actions.
There are several methods for conducting workplace incident investigations, including.
Identifying witnesses is recommended before gathering information on the site, preserving evidence, and preserving evidence. Before disturbing an incident site, you must obtain permission from an authorized government official, such as a coroner, inspector, or police officer.
Physical evidence is often considered less controversial than other forms of data, but it is vulnerable to rapid changes or destruction, requiring immediate documentation.
In certain circumstances, witnesses can be your primary source of information when investigating an incident where you don’t have immediate access to the scene. Interviewing witnesses can be challenging for investigators due to emotional stress and concerns over potential repercussions.
It is advisable to separate witnesses and conduct interviews promptly following the event. When witnesses discuss an event together, individual perceptions may be compromised as they try to reach a consensus despite doubts about the facts.
The objective of the interview is to establish comprehension with the witness and acquire their account of the event. The following are guidelines to follow and avoid when conducting an interview.
The following documents may contain vital information for the investigation:
It is crucial to thoroughly analyze these documents to fully understand the incident and prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.
Effective workplace incident investigation consists of six steps.
Utilizing cones or other barriers to shield vulnerable areas is essential to begin the investigation and preserve tangible evidence. If the distance to the scene requires a long trip, onsite management should handle this task. The investigation team must adhere to safety guidelines mandated by the site and may need to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as required.
After securing the scene and gathering initial information and evidence, the next step is to develop an investigation plan. Having a systematic investigation plan can ensure it is comprehensive. During this phase, the investigation team must determine the individuals involved and assess the timeframe and resource requirements.
Gathering all necessary documents and equipment in a kit is recommended for optimal efficiency and coordination during an investigation. The kit should include the following items regardless of the situation:
The subsequent action involves gathering all pertinent details about the occurrence. Information regarding the incident is obtainable from multiple sources, including individuals present at the scene, witnesses who require interviewing, equipment located onsite, and documents like training histories, inspection reports, and logs of maintenance.
Analyzing the events that lead to an incident is essential in identifying the root cause since a series of events usually trigger it. Performing a root cause analysis can reveal underlying or systemic issues instead of only investigating surface causes such as human error.
Develop a comprehensive plan to address the incident’s immediate and underlying causes, delegate individuals to carry out the necessary actions, and verify that the plan is executed. It is essential to monitor the progress of the corrective action plan to ensure proper implementation of the measures.
Different documents must be shared, including incident investigation reports, fact sheets, alerts, and presentations. Carefully documenting every incident will create a complete database of risks and incidents that can help manage future incidents efficiently.
Make sure to check the report’s accuracy before sharing it with management and workers. Involve parties such as supervisors on duty during the incident, witnesses, workers, and safety officers to sign off on the report. Finally, share key findings with all involved parties.
An efficient investigation is crucial to avoid repeat occurrences. It includes multiple steps, requires stakeholder coordination, and analyzes various data types. Manually doing this can be time-consuming. SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor), a multi-purpose cloud-based incident management and inspection app, can make your team's work much smoother, easier, and more efficient, saving you time and resources.
SafetyCulture allows you to do the following:
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.
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