From harassment and data breaches to health and safety issues and even near misses, workplace incidents are a reality for every organization. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace incidents in 2017.
Regardless of what types of incidents occur in your workplace, it’s important to know how to conduct thorough, timely, fair and effective workplace incident investigations. This not only protects your employees’ safety and well-being, but it also promotes a disruption-free work environment and may even save your company’s reputation.
Case management software makes it easier to assess workplace incidents and resolve issues. Find out more in our free eBook.
A wide variety of situations can be classified as workplace incidents. Depending on your workplace, you may have to manage:
- Workplace accidents, injuries or illness
- Health and safety issues
- Near misses
- Physical security breaches (e.g. break-in, damage to security tools)
- Workplace violence
- Harassment, discrimination or bullying
- Cybersecurity incidents or data breaches
No matter what types of incidents you face, you owe it to your employees to conduct fair, effective and timely workplace incident investigations.
Keeping track of workplace incident investigations can be stressful. Stay organized for faster, more effective investigations with our free checklist.
As an employer, you are responsible for providing a workplace that is safe, both physically and psychologically, for all of your employees. If you don’t do your best to prevent risks to their physical and mental health, you are contributing to a potentially toxic work environment.
Not only will this make employees unhappy working for you, it could lead to a lawsuit. Workplace incident investigations that are inadequate or never performed at all may lead to reputation damage or thousands of dollars in legal fees should the affected employee take legal action.
For instance, when an Amazon warehouse worker hurt her back on the job, her employer took 9 months to replace missing safety equipment that had resulted in her injury twice. As a result of having to take unpaid leave and losing her workers compensation benefits, the employee lost her home, forcing her to file a lawsuit.
Fifty per cent of businesses that face a major negative incident fail within two years of the crisis. Thorough workplace incident investigations can also prove that you are compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), discrimination laws and other regulations, which can protect your organization during a lawsuit.
Finally, investigating workplace incidents helps you find the root cause. Not only does this help you eliminate whatever led to the incident, it can also help you avoid recurring issues. For example, if an employee was injured by a falling box, an investigation may show that boxes are stacked too high and could harm someone else if conditions aren’t changed.
However, there is rarely one single cause that leads to a workplace incident. Consider all of the circumstances surrounding the accident during the workplace incident investigation.
During workplace incident investigations, finding the root cause can protect your employees (and your reputation) from further harm. Incident causation usually falls into these five categories:
- Task (the nature and execution of the actual work task)
- Material (issues with equipment or materials used for work)
- Environment (issues with and changes in the physical work environment)
- Personnel (the physical and mental condition of the employee, the psychosocial environment of the workplace)
- Management (management lapsed in responsibility for employee safety and well-being)
As you can see from the diagram, the causation categories have a lot of overlap. This helps investigators understand the incident as a whole picture, rather than looking at different facts in isolation.
Whether you have an in-house team or you hire external investigators, workplace incident investigations aren’t to be taken lightly. Each one should be conducted in an ethical, respectful and efficient way. Every incident, from a minor injury to a major data breach, must be investigated using the same steps and degree of care.
Immediately After the Incident
When an incident occurs in your workplace, you need to act fast. The more time that is lost between the incident and the start of the investigation, the more damage that could be done. Before the investigation, you must:
- Provide first aid or medical care if there is an injury or illness
- Call law enforcement, maintenance or other authorities needed to deescalate the situation
- Remove or stop the immediate cause of the incident (e.g. shut off electricity, patch leak, remove violent individual) until the situation is stabilized
- Notify all affected individuals (employees, clients, customers, community members, etc.)
- Report the incident to your organization’s incident response team
During the Investigation
If you decide to escalate the incident and start an investigation, your team needs to take thoughtful steps to resolve the issue. Workplace incident investigations should include:
- Collecting data and evidence (physical and/or digital) through witness interviews, scene assessment, etc.
- Analyzing the data and performing a root cause analysis
- Reporting the findings to management and recommending a course of action
After the Investigation: CAPA Plan
- Develop a corrective and preventive action (CAPA) plan based on the investigative team’s recommendations
- Implement the CAPA plan
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the CAPA plan through employee evaluations, safety tests, etc.
- Make changes to the CAPA plan if needed
According to Patricia Vercillo, Vice-President of Operations at The Smith Investigation Agency, “a corrective action plan is important so that you can avoid similar situations.” She suggests implementing “these plans among staff; that way, everyone is in the know. In order to continue to improve, it is vital to make changes as you go along.”
Timothy Dimoff, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., explains that workplace incidents “can range from natural disasters to confidentiality breaches to criminal behavior to terrorism.” However, he notes that “preparation is the key to successfully handling an incident or crisis that may affect your business while minimizing potential fallout.”
Here are some tips for preparing your workplace for incidents and avoiding them altogether:
- Perform a risk assessment
- Conduct mandatory safety training for all employees
- Create incident response plans for all types of workplace incidents
- Put together an incident response team
- Evaluate your incident response plans annually
Strong preparation helps your organization avoid incidents and react more quickly and effectively when they do occur.
In order to properly manage your workplace incident investigations, you need an organized tracking system. You’ll be able to investigate faster and more thoroughly, restoring your normal work environment sooner.
Create an incident response plan (download a template here) and use an investigation report template (you can download ours here) to promote consistency. This ensures your workplace incident investigations are thorough, timely and adhere to your organization’s values. Report your investigative data to eliminate blind spots and information silos so that you can prevent future occurrences.
Implement Technology to Manage Incidents
Whether you have five employees or five million, case management software can streamline your workplace incident investigations. When you create a case, all important information and documentation is stored within the file, including evidence when an investigation is warranted. You can also limit the information that each team member can view, keeping sensitive data secure and private.
A case management tool gives your organization better oversight so you can prevent workplace incidents before they occur and properly address those that do happen.