Incident Investigations

Employers should always make it a top priority to provide workers with a safe working environment. That said, accidents can still happen, even when employers strictly enforce safety practices and employees strictly adhere to them. Incidents happen due to a breakdown, departure, or failure in the acceptable method of performance. When an accident does occur, the incident investigation report will serve in several important objectives. So, it's vital that a timely and thorough incident investigation takes place.

The Purpose of Incident Investigation.

The main purpose of an incident investigation is for the employer to learn why the breakdown happened and determine procedures that could be put into place to prevent it from reoccurring. The employer should gather and examine the data they collect to figure out where and why the departure from acceptable behavior happened. Employers can learn from errors and increase future productivity from knowing if there was any indication of the breakdown prior to it occurring, or if there was any possible point that the breakdown could have been interrupted and stopped.

Legal liability is another purpose of investigating the incident. During the investigation, the employer will gather information that could be paramount in mounting a possible defense against any resulting lawsuit(s). The defense team in such lawsuits will build their strategy based on the what, when, who, where, why, and how of the incident, data that's often revealed during the incident investigation.

How Should the Investigative Process Take Place?

The investigative process will begin as the scene of the incident is reviewed and examined. This can provide an exact reason, or possible scenarios, as to why the incident happened. Pictures should be taken of the incident scene. The pictures can later be compared to blueprints, diagrams, or drawings of the area to help determine what chain of events led up to the incident occurring.

Now, it's time to question all witnesses that might have information leading up to, during, or just after the incident. You can use forms created by regulatory agencies or internally created forms to guide the questioning process.

Either way, using the completion of the form as a format for the questions asked will help to maintain objective questioning of witnesses, no matter who is asking or being asked the questions. It's human nature for most people to immediately form assumptions and theories following the incident. Keep in mind that this type of non-factual information is useless and adds nothing to the validity of the investigation.

All the gathered information will be carefully analyzed by the investigator to determine what elements are explainable and what elements still need an explanation. The chronology of the chain of events will be explored. Then, the actions of those involved are examined alongside concurrently occurring actions to see if any of the concurrently occurring actions had any bearing on the incident.

Following the analysis, the investigator will make a written report that contains a description of the incident, the circumstances and elements that led to the incident occurring, why the incident occurred, and any recommendations to prevent it from reoccurring. The report should accompany the physical documentation collected by the investigator.

Although an incident investigation is initially about investigating, it makes little sense to know the what, how, and such of the incident if nothing is done to prevent it from reoccurring. So, the last stage of the incident investigation is about implementing the recommended changes suggested in the final report. For optimal success during the implementation stage, the employer should assign a task force to ensure that the recommendations are put into place, supported from the top down, and are subsequently followed by everyone.
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Further Reading
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