Accident Investigation: Finding the Positive in the Negative

The title above may sound like a contradiction. But actually, examining an accident in detail—and this includes the minor ones and even near misses, too—can provide valuable insight and ultimately prevention techniques.

Unfortunately, many organizations do the bare minimum when it comes to accident investigation. And a sorry fact is some companies do absolutely nothing and they are totally missing the boat.

Generally speaking, the larger the company, the more detailed the accident investigation. Small- to mid-sized-employers often don’t believe they have the expertise or the time. Another barrier to a proper accident investigation beside resources is company culture. I personally have seen organizations spend the better part of a day trying to figure out why a dump truck is on its side and only 15 minutes looking into why a carpenter has conjunctivitis. In fact, some employers just hand the carpenter an accident report and say "fill this out" and that's the extent of the investigation! Talk about short-sighted. My point is many companies unintentionally hold an inanimate object more valuable than an employee. I know they don't do it intentionally and I guarantee they really care for the employees, but it's a chink in their safety culture.

Although trying to figure out what happened and how to prevent any recurrence is not difficult, there are certain steps that enhance any investigation no matter the size of the company:

  • Control the accident scene. Secure the site, give medical attention and abate the existing hazards.
  • Gather the facts. Discuss the incident with the injured person after medical treatment. Also talk with witnesses.
  • Determine the root cause(s). The smallest detail may point to the real cause. Ask “why” repeatedly.
  • Develop an action plan that eliminates the root causes. Correct hazardous conditions, assign persons responsible for each action and establish due dates.

MEMIC holds workshops that teach employers how to find the positive in these negative situations. In fact, if you’re a MEMIC policyholder, there are some Accident Investigation workshops coming up you may want to check out. If not, there are other trade organizations, state agencies and similar groups that do training. Another good resource is the Internet.  I typed in "accident investigation" in a search engine and hundreds of websites came up.

For those readers very comfortable with their investigation process, keep up the good work! But, for those who know they are deficient, now is a good time to make improvements in how you do business and improve your safety culture.