Accident investigations can be extremely valuable and a key component to your safety and loss prevention efforts. Every accident and near-miss can be a learning tool that will enable you to prevent another accident under the same or similar circumstances.
Anytime an accident or near-miss occurs, an investigation should be conducted. You should find out what happened, why it happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Near-misses are investigated as any other accident because something still went wrong and, if left unchecked, could result in an injury the next time.
To complete an investigation, you should gather all relevant facts, identify accident causes, establish and implement corrective action, and monitor changes to assure effectiveness.
Fact-finding should begin as soon as possible following an accident. Details will be fresh in the memories of the employee(s) and witnesses. Interview the employee(s) and any witnesses involved.
• Ask for the employee’s version of exactly what happened. Avoid leading questions such as, “Did you lift more than you could safely handle?”
• Ask the employee how the accident could have been prevented.
• Note the employee’s health, clothing, job knowledge, etc.
• Record all facts and opinions no matter how irrelevant they may appear.
• Interview witnesses to the accident in the same manner as above.
• Remember and assure the employee(s) and witnesses that the purpose of the investigation is not to affix blame, but to identify responsible causes and prevent future accidents.
Document all observable facts at the scene of the accident. When appropriate, use aids such as a camera, tape measure, and sketches. Observable facts may include:
• Environment (slippery floors, lighting, noise, dust, vapors, etc.).
• Equipment and tools (type, guarding, maintenance, defects, etc.).
• Material involved (type, size, shape, weight, etc.).
• Safety equipment and devices, including personal protective equipment.
Identify Accident Causes
Once fact gathering is complete, identify the responsible causes for the accident. The obvious causes should be determined first and then the underlying causes defined. For example, an employee injures a hand in an unguarded punch press. Investigation reveals that the guard was removed. An obvious conclusion is that the missing guard caused the injury and replacing it will prevent future injuries.
However, there are additional factors to consider in the investigation. Answering the following types of questions may yield additional information and the actual causes of the accident:
• Why was the guard removed?
• Was the equipment and guarding consistent with current state-of-the-art options? Were they being properly maintained?
• Was the guard interlocked?
• Was the most effective and efficient method of guarding being used? Have alternate methods been evaluated?
• Was the employee properly trained and were the proper procedures followed?
• How can the operation be made safer?
Implement Corrective Action
Once responsible causes have been identified, implement corrective action to eliminate or control them. Supervisors should take corrective action or, if not within their authority, should make suggestions to the appropriate management. For corrective actions that are not obvious or, if no ideas come to mind, brainstorm solutions with employees and/or other supervisors. At times, the most effective corrective action cannot be implemented immediately. In such cases, temporary measures should be put in place while the more involved methods are studied.
Identifying responsible causes without proposing any corrective action means, in all likelihood, nothing will be corrected. If nothing is corrected, chances are the same or a similar accident will continue to occur.
Once corrective measures are implemented, management should ensure their effectiveness by monitoring the operation and future accident activity. If the measures taken do not prove effective, explore other corrective actions.
WCF Insurance Safety Department
NOTICE: This guide may make reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations; however the guide is not legal advice as to compliance with OSHA or other safety laws, codes, or regulations. Compliance with OSHA and other safety laws codes or regulations, and maintaining a safe work environment for your employees remains your responsibility. WCF Insurance does not undertake to perform the duty of any person to provide for the health or safety of your employees. WCF Insurance does not warrant that your workplace is safe or healthful, or that it complies with any laws, regulations, codes, or standards.