What Exactly Went Wrong?

TV SHOWS SUCH AS “CSI” illustrate how intriguing investigations can be. Waste firms likely will not find themselves delving into the high-drama crime scenes depicted on television, but they may find themselves conducting investigations into what went — or almost went — wrong at the workplace.

Accidents — and even near-accidents — are signals that something is amiss. All work-related mishaps should be investigated in a timely manner. While a near-miss may not have resulted in a major injury or significant property damage, investigating such instances can help avoid serious accidents in the future.

After all, the primary goal of an accident investigation program is to use the knowledge gained to prevent similar accidents in the future. Additionally, investigations often are required by federal and state law and may be required by your insurance carrier. Proper investigative reports can be critical in determining your company's liability.

When something does go awry, it is important that employees, especially those in supervisory positions, know what to do. The company's safety manager should assist in accidents involving fire, death, serious injury or extensive property damage.

The supervisor must begin investigating the circumstances of the accident. The following procedures are effective when conducting investigations:

  • Go to the scene of the accident.

  • Provide first aid or emergency medical care. Call 911 if an injured person is unconscious, bleeding profusely, is in great pain, shows signs of shock or heart attack, or if you are uncertain about the severity of injuries.

  • Control access to the scene. People milling around can destroy physical evidence or information necessary for an accurate and complete investigation. They also may get in the way of emergency responders and expose themselves to uncontrolled hazards. Rope off or barricade the area or have someone stand guard.

  • Talk with the injured person, if possible, as well as witnesses. Stress getting the facts, not placing blame or responsibility. Ask open-ended questions.

  • Listen for clues in the conversations around you. Unsolicited comments often have merit.

  • Encourage people to give their ideas for preventing a similar accident.

  • Study possible causes for unsafe conditions or practices.

  • Confer with interested persons about possible solutions.

  • Write your accident report, giving a complete account of the accident.

  • Follow up to make sure conditions are corrected. If they cannot be corrected immediately, report this to your supervisor.

  • Publicize corrective action taken and what was learned from the experience.

A thorough investigation may identify previously overlooked physical, environmental or process hazards; the need for new or more extensive safety training; and unsafe work practices. The primary focus of any investigation should be determining the facts and the lessons that can be learned.

Answers to the following questions can provide insight:

  • What was the employee doing? Describe the equipment, materials, people and environmental conditions involved in the accident.

  • What happened? Indicate in detail what took place, describe the accident, the type of injury, if the employee was wearing appropriate safety equipment and any other relevant details.

  • What caused the accident? Explain in detail the condition, act or malfunction that caused the accident. Remember that it is possible to have more than one reason or cause for an accident.

  • What can be done to avoid a similar accident? Indicate corrective action to prevent recurrence.

Accident investigations are well worth the time and trouble when the collected information is put to use. When the root cause of the incident is determined, the next step is to determine what has to be done to increase safety in the workplace.
Kate McGinn
XL Specialty Insurance Company, Exton, Pa.