How Accident Investigations Can Improve Safety

People, equipment, supplies and workplace surroundings have been known to fail across the country every day, and many of these failures cause accidents. Unless you conduct an accident investigation into these events, you may never learn how and why a failure occurred, and the same — or perhaps an even worse — accident is likely to repeat itself. On the other hand, by using information gained through a thorough investigation, you may be able to prevent an accident — and the employee injuries that can result.

Information You Need for the Investigation

There are no specific OSHA standards related to accident investigations. However, the agency does provide some relevant information that should be used to investigate all events that cause injuries or property damage. In addition, all near-misses (in which no loss occurs but could have if conditions were different) should be thoroughly investigated as well.

You’ll need to answer a few basic questions:

  • Who was involved in the accident?
  • Who witnessed it?
  • What happened?
  • What was abnormal or different before the accident occurred?
  • When did each event in the incident occur?
  • Where did the hazard first occur?
  • How and why did the event take place?

After closely examining the accident site, move on to interviewing witnesses. Take accurate notes each step of the way. You may also need to jot down maps or sketches. Snapping some photographs and/or videotaping the scene are good ideas. Next, review operating procedures, process information, maintenance records and job hazard analyses. If there are obvious flaws, make it a priority to correct them as soon as possible.

Develop a Sequence of Events

Finally, develop a sequence of events leading up to the accident. It is important that each contributing factor is traced back to its root cause. Based on all of the information you have gathered, prepare a written report that describes the accident and its causes. Also include recommendations for corrective action and prevention.

Be sure to review the material with your employees. If the accident is serious, consider presenting the report to management to keep it abreast of the situation. This will make it clear to everyone in the organization that safety is a top priority for you and for your employees.