Tips for Conducting Meaningful Accident Investigations

Promptness is essential. Make an initial investigation of every accident or incident as soon as possible. Persons involved may very quickly forget important facts. Accidents involving complex factors may require additional investigation by the safety committee, safety director or appropriate technician.

A prompt investigation by the immediate supervisor has many advantages. It displays an interest in the welfare of employees, presents an opportunity for the supervisor to discuss safety with workers, addresses unsafe acts and conditions, and increases knowledge of hazards and safety.

Use tact and discretion when questioning an injured employee, preferably in a relaxed atmosphere, away from the work area. Questioning should be free of blame, accusation or dispute. Your concern must be with determining the cause, or causes, of the accident and the avoidance of recurrence. Explain that the purpose of the investigation is to help, not reprimand, the injured worker.

Unsafe acts, alone or in combination with unsafe conditions, cause many accidents. Avoid using the word “carelessness.” This phrase hinders identifying and correcting the real causes. If an unsafe act has caused or contributed to an accident, try to determine the precise nature of the unsafe act. This means finding the “root cause” – what really caused the accident to occur. For example, if a worker slipped on spilled oil, was it the oil itself, or a failure to clean it up – perhaps poor housekeeping routines – that is the root cause of the accident?

Specifically note the underlying cause rather than just the event that produced the accident.