The focus of workplace injury investigations is prevention. Investigations involving on the job injuries require significant attention to detail. Investigations into these cases seek to identify the causes of work related injuries, helping employers take appropriate action to prevent future injuries. Proper evidence collection and the information gathered during investigation interviews contribute to the success of workplace incident investigations.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “reasons to investigate a workplace accident include the following”:
- To find out the cause of accidents and to prevent similar accidents in the future.
- To fulfill any legal requirements.
- To determine the cost of an accident.
- To determine compliance with applicable safety regulations.
- To process workers’ compensation claims.
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1. Handle Immediate Risk
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Deal with the injury immediately. If the injured employee requires basic first aid, medical assistance or hospitalization, make sure the appropriate treatment is administered. Make sure that incident reports are properly filled out and any treatment given is well documented. It’s also important to document where the accident occurred in the workplace. Block this area off until it has been investigated and deemed safe to return to.
Blocking off access to the area also helps preserve evidence to be collected and reviewed by incident investigators. If there were any witnesses present when the incident happened, make a lit of their names. Witnesses are an integral part of the investigation and are interviewed to provide greater insight into the incident. If the incident needs to be reported to an occupational health and safety board or organization, make sure the claim is filed as soon as possible.
2. Evidence Collection
The Construction Safety Association of Ontario states, “work environment, job constraints, and supervisory or worker experience can all play a part in workplace injuries. These factors must be examined to determine what role each had in causing the accident.” Before anything is removed from the scene of the incident, take pictures and document observations. When collecting physical evidence, label and record the location it was found and date of collection. A case management system, such as i-Sight Investigation Software helps investigators record, track and manage case evidence. i-Sight creates exhibit numbers and bar codes for evidence, allowing each member of the investigative team to view the evidence and a brief description.
Here is a list of factors to consider during the evidence collection phase of an investigation. These questions help identify the sequence of events leading up to the accident. The list below is a fusion of the suggestions offered on the CUPE site, as well as the Chemical Plant Safety Resources Blog post titled “Industrial Accident Investigation Procedures“:
- Positions and locations of injured worker(s)
- Equipment, chemicals or other items used at the time of injury
- Safety devices in use
- Was the employee wearing proper safety gear- boots, hats, goggles.
- Damage to equipment- conditions of safety devices, guards and controls
- Presence of broken equipment or missing parts
- Cleanliness of the workspace
- Weather conditions (is the accident occurred outdoors)
- Lighting levels- poor lighting, blind spots or poor lines of visibility
- Noise levels
- Training provided to the employee prior to operating or working in the area
- Time of day
- Were company procedures being followed?
3. Investigation Interviews
Interview the injured employee, supervisors and any witnesses present at the time of injury. Document the interviews either in writing, voice recording or video when permitted. These accounts allow investigators to go back and review information once the interviews are over. Interviewing the injured employee can provide investigators with a firsthand account of the accident.
However, depending on how serious the injury was, witnesses could be a better source of information. For example, if the injury resulted in the victim becoming unconscious or entering a state of shock, their account of the events could lack information or become distorted due to the state they were in. Interviewing supervisors is important, as they can provide information related to the training the employee has received, dates of recent upgrades or assessments of machinery and safety procedures enabled within the workplace.
Witness interviews provide a wealth of information pertaining to the incident. Only interview those who have relevant knowledge related to the accident. Inform interviewees they are not to talk about the events or interview with their peers.When interviewing witnesses, let them know the purpose of the interview. The interviews are conducted as a way to gather additional information to take preventative measures. Interviews are not done to point blame and generate accusations. Inquire about the events leading up to the accident and what was done immediately after.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends asking the following questions during witness interviews:
- “Where were you at the time of the accident?
- What were you doing at the time?
- What did you see, hear?
- What were the environmental conditions (weather, light, noise, etc.) at the time?
- What was (were) the injured worker(s) doing at the time?
- In your opinion, what caused the accident?
- How might similar accidents be prevented in the future?”
4. Report of Findings
In some locations, companies are legally required to report the investigation findings and the actions taken to correct identified problems. Compile case evidence and interview responses for thorough analysis. i-Sight allows investigators to create reports with a single click. Data entered into the case file is pulled and placed in a report template ready for distribution. After the data has been analyzed, prepare possible solutions to the problem.
5. Corrective Action
Implement corrections immediately. Once the cause(s) of the accident have been determined, take action to correct problems and prevent future accidents. Document the correction process. Outline the steps taken and who they were tasken by. Corrective action documents provide evidence to support the corrections made after the investigation. In some countries or states, documentation of these actions is legally required. Some examples of corrective measures include:
- Replacement or repairs to machinery.
- Posting signs as a reminder to wear safety gear, warnings and other necessary precautions.
- Creation or reinforcement of safety procedures.