David Burkhardt

OSHA recently reported that more than 4,000 workers died from workplace accidents last year, and nearly three million others were injured, or became ill, due to work-related actions. This reinforces why accident investigation needs to be an integral part of any company’s health and safety program.
Accident investigation is critical, not only because of the legal reporting requirements, but also to correct any conditions or procedures in order to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

The National Safety Council provides the following definitions:
• ACCIDENT – An undesired event that results in personal injury or property damage.
• INCIDENT – An unplanned, undesired event that adversely affects completion of a task.
• NEAR-MISS – Incidents where no property was damaged and no personal injury sustained. These should be considered warning signs.

Although OSHA doesn’t have specific standards regarding accident investigation, 29 CFR 1960.29 suggests that all accidents should be investigated, including those involving property damage only. The level of the investigation should be based on the seriousness of the event.

An effective accident investigation procedure should include the following components:

Who should investigate?
Companies should establish an investigation team to investigate any occurrence. The team should include the Safety Officer or a Safety Committee member, the supervisor in charge of the area where the accident occurred, employees knowledgeable with the work that was being performed, and a union representative, if applicable.

Team training
Safety personnel and supervisors should be trained on the basics of accident investigation, and each of these personnel should have a prepared investigation plan.

Accident Investigation training should provide the team members with information on how to:
• Survey the scene (assess the condition of the injured, determine and eliminate any continuing hazards)
• Get help for the injured (contact emergency-response personnel or provide first aid)
• Secure the scene (protect the evidence)
• Collect evidence as soon as possible (document the scene; interview witnesses; review procedures, as well as equipment information and condition)
• Analyze data (determine sequence of events)
• Determine surface and root causes
• Prepare an accident report with the details of the accident (date, time, location, a description of operations, photographs, interviews of witnesses), and recommended corrective actions needed to reduce or eliminate the hazard.
• Follow up (eliminate hazards); accident reports are not closed until corrective actions are taken

Accidents are usually caused by a number of factors, all of which should be examined during the investigation. They are:
• Task(s)
• Material(s)
• Environment
• Personnel
• Management

It’s important to remember that the sole purpose of accident investigation is to determine and eliminate the cause of an accident, not to assign blame. Disciplinary action should be handled separately from accident investigations.

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