Thousands of workplace accidents occur in the US every day, usually caused by the failure of people or equipment and materials not functioning as expected. Accident investigations determine not only what happened, but also how and why. By using the information gained through an investigation, a similar or perhaps more serious accident may be prevented.
Though accident investigations can be a valuable tool for prevention and compliance, many employers have not established comprehensive accident investigation policies. An effective investigation program can help safeguard employees from future accidents and help protect employers from potential legal liability. The key reasons to conduct a workplace accident investigation include:
- To determine the cause of accidents and prevent future accidents
- To fulfill any legal requirements
- To determine the cost of an accident
- To determine compliance with applicable safety regulations
- To process workers’ compensation claims
Ideally an accident investigation should be conducted by a person who is experienced in workplace safety and investigation procedures as well as knowledgeable of the work processes related to the accident. The investigation may involve a team, such as a supervisor who has received safety training, employees with knowledge of the work, a safety officer, a health and safety committee, a union representative, if applicable, and/or an independent safety expert.
General guidelines for responding to a workplace accident include:
- Provide first aid and medical care to injured worker(s)
- Report the accident to a designated person within the organization
- Identify causes
- Report findings
- Develop a plan for corrective action
- Implement the plan
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the corrective action
- Make changes for continuous improvement
Most accidents are preventable by eliminating one or more causes. By conducting thorough accident investigations, executives and managers can take an important step toward safeguarding their employees and protecting their organizations.