Four Simple Steps to Better Accident Investigations

Accidents, illnesses and near-misses do not “just happen.” They have definite causes, traceable to specific sequences of events. If you do not understand those causes and correct them, you increase your chances of experiencing similar accidents. Follow these four simple tips to uncover and correct the root causes of workplace accidents.

  1. Gather facts
  • Interview those involved, as well as witnesses.
  • Keep the interviews private, and listen carefully.
  • Ask open-ended questions, one at a time.
  • Continue investigating until you are satisfied that you understand the circumstances and causes of the accident–don’t stop just because someone says the injured worker was “careless.”
  • Examine materials and equipment.
  • Follow safety procedures, and use personal protective equipment if necessary.
  • Take photos or make sketches when possible.

2.  Analyze facts

The most important part of the investigation is analyzing the facts to determine why the accident happened. This task is difficult because there is almost never a single, simple reason. Consider which of the following categories may be contributing causes:

  • Equipment–Examples are machinery, raw materials and inadequate safeguards.
  • Methods–Examples are rules, procedures, supervision and work methods.
  • Personnel–Examples are physical condition, training and fatigue.
  • Environment:–Examples are noise, heat, cold, lighting, ventilation and road conditions.

3.  Take corrective actions

If you identify causes from a number of the categories described above (equipment, methods, personnel, environment), plan ways to correct each cause. Examples might include physical changes, procedural changes, more training or a better safety program. Be sure that management, supervisors and employees follow through with the appropriate measures.

4.  Follow up

Just because you assigned corrective actions doesn’t mean your staff completed them. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean the corrective actions were effective.

Follow up to make sure all corrective actions are in place and that they eliminated the root causes.

Collect data on the costs of the accident. You may be able to use this information to evaluate whether the cost of the accident justifies the purchase of new equipment or changes in production methods.

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