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November 4, 2020

Accident investigation: Why it’s important

Michael Knox, Mark Wandersee

Employers strive for a workplace free from accidents by implementing safety policies, conducting safety training and providing every amount of PPE possible, however, accidents still occur.  After an accident occurs, there is an opportunity to identify weak points in our safety program through accident investigation.  Taking the time to discover why it happened in order to ensure a similar accident doesn’t happen again is the goal.  Consider conducting regular accident investigations and discussing with leadership how to make a big impact on future workplace accidents.

According to the National Safety Council, workplace injuries cost American businesses $170.8 Billion in 2018. The average medically-treated workplace injury is $39,000 and workplace deaths average $1.15 Million.  In an effort to prevent workplace injuries in the first place, a lot of focus is placed on safety policies and safety training, but often proper action after the accident is inadequate or ineffective.  Common excuses for not conducting a thorough accident investigation are:

  • We have so little accidents we do not really need to investigate
  • We have no patterns of accidents and no need to document them
  • Most accidents are common sense and we cannot prevent them anyway

When accident investigations do occur, they can be misguided in their approach:

  • Fault finding, rather than fact finding (blaming the injured person)
  • Not conducting “root cause analysis”
  • Waiting too long before conducting the investigation
  • Not interviewing witnesses or taking pictures
  • Not following through with the information gathered

It is important to remember that the main purpose of conducting an accident investigation is to prevent the incident from happening again.  The investigation may help with fraudulent claims, however, catching the injured employee in a “gotcha” moment should not be the goal.  Instead, a “root cause” analysis should be conducted.  Constantly asking “why” will reveal where changes ultimately need to be made.  Often, this method will reveal issues at a much higher level and will assist in implementing meaningful change. Following the investigation you should answer one of the three following questions before implementing changes to your safety program:

  1. Would a physical change have made a difference?
  2. Would a procedural change have made a difference?
  3. Would additional education and training have made a difference?

Finally, keep in mind that that Near Miss Accident Theory suggests that you have a limited amount of near misses before an actual injury occurs.  Do not forget to complete thorough accident investigations on every near miss and be sure to share your findings with your company.

If you would like any assistance creating, training or implementing an accident investigation plan, please reach out to your local Loss Control team.

Additional information on Accident Investigations: