up arrow to top of page

Workplace Incident Investigations Prevent Future Injuries

Incident investigations, including a thorough root cause analysis, should be happening after any injury, property damage event, or near miss happens on the job. Following the investigation, appropriate corrective actions can be implemented to prevent future incidents.

Stacked manila folders, the top one has a post-it note that says Workplace Incident Investigation

The term accident often used when referring to an unplanned, unwanted event. However, accident suggests an event that was random, and could not have been prevented. Since nearly all worksite fatalities, injuries, and illnesses are preventable, the term incident is more applicable in most of these unfortunate situations.

Investigating a worksite incident, which may be a fatality, an injury, an illness, property damage, or a close call, provides employers and workers the opportunity to identify hazards in their operations and shortcomings in their safety and health programs. Most importantly, it enables employers and workers to identify and implement the corrective and preventative actions necessary to prevent future incidents.

Incident investigations that focus on identifying and correcting root causes, not on finding fault or blame, also improve workplace morale and increase productivity, by demonstrating an employer's commitment to a safe and healthful workplace.

A worker with a clipboard and a pen interviewing other workers

Incident investigations are often conducted by a supervisor, but to be most effective, these investigations should include managers and employees working together, since each bring different knowledge, understanding, and perspectives to the investigation.

In conducting an incident investigation, the team must look beyond the immediate causes of an incident. It is far too easy, and often misleading, to conclude that carelessness or failure to follow a procedure was the main cause of an incident. When the incident investigation fails to uncover the root cause(s) of the incident then the organization will fail to identify the systemic changes and measures that are needed to prevent future incidents.

Rememberbefore an incident investigation begins, all emergency response actions need to be completed and the incident site must be safe and secure for entry and investigation.

The scene of a workplace incident with a barricade tape in front of it

OSHA recommends a four-step systems approach to incident investigations.

Step 1 – Preserve and Document the Scene

Preserve the integrity of incident location and prevent material evidence from being removed or altered. Use cones, tape, or other means of guarding to prevent unauthorized entry.

Step 2 – Collect Information

Information about what happened before and during the incident can be collected through visual observation of the location, interviews, and document review efforts.

Step 3 – Determine Root Causes

There is often more than one root cause that can be uncovered during any incident investigation, and finding these root causes requires a deep evaluation of the incident.

Step 4 – Implement Corrective and Preventative Actions

Steps taken after an incident to prevent future similar incidents, should be implemented in such a way that specifically addresses the root cause(s) found during the investigation.

A pen on a blank form to fill in, like an incident form, on the section asking for Witnesses

When a program weakness is identified during an incident investigation, it is important to ask why it existed and why it was not previously addressed.

For example:

  • If a step in the standard operating procedure was skipped, why was the procedure not followed exactly?
  • Did production pressures play a role, and, if so, why were production pressures permitted to jeopardize safety?
  • Was the procedure out-of-date or safety training inadequate? If so, why had the problem not been previously identified, or, if it had been identified, why had it not been addressed?

These examples illustrate that it is essential to discover and correct all the factors contributing to an incident, which nearly always involve equipment, procedural, training, and some other safety program deficiency. Simply placing blame on the employee, indicating that they made a mistake, or failed to follow the procedure, is not acceptable during an incident investigation.

A pen and a clipboard with a paper that says RCA, Root Cause Analysis

A successful root cause analysis identifies all root causes—there are often more than one.

For simpler incidents, brainstorming and checklists may be sufficient to identify the root cause(s). For more complicated incidents, logic/event trees should also be considered. Timelines, sequence diagrams, and causal factor identification can also be useful tools.

Regardless of the tools used, the investigation should be seeking to answer these four important questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. How did it happen?
  3. Why did it happen?
  4. What needs to be corrected so it doesn’t happen again?

Addressing underlying or root causes is necessary to truly understand why an incident occurred, to develop truly effective corrective and preventative actions, and to minimize or eliminate serious consequences from similar future incidents.

A white stamp on a black background that says Incident Investigation

To assist employers and workers in conducting effective incident investigations, and to develop corrective action plans, the following resources can help:

OSHA Fact Sheet: The Importance of Root Cause Analysis During Incident Investigation

OSHA Incident Investigations: A Guide for Employers

NSC How to Conduct an Incident Investigation

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries Accident Investigation Basics PowerPoint Presentation

A blue binder and a DVD for Accident Investigation training

For additional manager and employee training on incident investigation, consider MARCOM’s Accident Investigation Safety Video Program. This video program covers incidents and near misses, investigations and root cause analysis, the role of tools and equipment in incidents, the importance of training, the role procedures play in preventing incidents, learning from incidents and more.

The safety video program comes with a quiz, a scheduling and attendance form, a training certificate, and an employee training log. For more information, click the button below.

Accident Investigation Video Program

Weeklysafety.com is giving away 10 free safety topics, no credit card required! Take advantage and grab your free set of safety meeting topics today by clicking the button below.

A membership to Weeklysafety.com comes at a very low price that never goes up no matter how many employees you have and no matter how many awesome safety topics you use. Included in your membership are hundreds of safety topics that you can use for your safety meetings, toolbox talks and safety moments.

Take a look at our website to learn more about everything that comes with a Weeklysafety.com membership. Click below to learn more today!

Download this free report today and get inspired to improve your workplace safety program!