Workplace Accident Investigation

Workplace accidents occur every day all across the country.  Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a statistical summary of injuries and illnesses that emphasizes this fact.

Websters dictionary defines an “accident” as,

“an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap.”

Similarly, a workplace accident can be defined as the final event in an unplanned process that results in an injury or illness of an employee and possibly causes property damage.  It is the final result or effect of many surface and root causes.

  • Accidents cause injuries: incidents do not.
  • An “event,” occurs when one “actor” (one person/thing) performs an “action” (does something).
  • A person or thing (equipment, tools, materials, etc.) will do something that results in a change of state.
  • An accident may be the result of many factors (simultaneous, interconnected, cross-linked events) that have interacted in some dynamic way.

The failure of people, equipment, supplies, or surroundings to behave or react as expected causes most of the accidents. Accident investigations determine how and why these failures occur. By using the information gained through an investigation, a similar or perhaps more disastrous accident may be prevented. Conduct accident investigations with accident prevention in mind. Here is an important thing to remember:  Investigations are NOT performed to place blame.

Workplace accidents are part of a broad group of events or occurrences leading to a physical or psychological injury. Workplace incidents adversely affect the completion of a task, but do not result in an employee injury.  The accident investigation process will start to make sense if it is understood that, ultimately, the purpose of the investigation is being done to improve the safety management system as a whole.  Conducting the investigation for any other reason will only result in ineffective solutions.

Here is a six-step process for conducting accident investigations:

  • Secure and document the accident scene.
    • Document the accident scene before it goes away.
  • Conduct interviews.
    • Dig up additional details by interviewing witnesses.
  • Develop the sequence of events.
    • Use interviews to put together a detailed sequence of events.
  • Conduct cause analysis.
    • Use injury analysis, event analysis, and systems analysis to determine causes of accident.
  • Determine the solutions.
    • Explore tips and tactics for making effective recommendations to prevent future accidents.
  • Write the report.
    • Include important information received from interviews and on-site analysis in the report.

For more detailed information on accident investigation, check out OSHAcademy course 702 Effective Accident Investigation.

Another great resource:  OSHAcademy’s Ultimate Accident Investigator’s Guide.  From securing the accident scene to writing the safety incident report, this comprehensive guide will help you build the confidence you need to conduct an OSHA accident investigation.