Back-to-School 2023 Safety Tip #4

Accident Analysis & Investigations

The investigation of a workplace incident is vital to acknowledging the issue and presents an opportunity to identify hazards and implement corrective measures. When an injury, or even a near-miss, occurs in the workplace, determining the cause is the first step to eliminating a future incident. A robust incident investigation process can result in substantial improvements to safety. Even simple, focused investigations into minor incidents can identify factors leading to the injury and remove hazards.

One key element of accident investigation is timing. It is crucial to discuss the incident with colleagues and preserve the scene when the event is fresh, so act immediately. Doing so will provide a better background on the cause of the event. Even if the hazard was immediately removed, an investigation can still identify the cause of the injury, confirm similar hazards do not exist elsewhere, and that the cause of the incident was permanently removed so as not to cause future injuries.

Interviews are often a necessary part of the process to gather more detailed accounts of the incident from employees and witnesses. The evidence gathered during the investigation, including interviews, should answer the five W’s. These are a few examples of relevant questions.

  • Who:
    • was injured?
    • witnessed it?
    • requested work to be done?
    • responded?
  • What:
    • happened?
    • was the victim doing? (Active or watching)
    • was the victim’s regular job if this was not it?
  • When:
    • did the incident occur?
    • was the equipment involved last inspected?
  • Where:
    • did the incident occur?
    • was the victim positioned?
    • were the witnesses?
    • was the supervisor?
  • Why:
    • was the victim injured?
    • were they working so close to others who caused the injury?
    • was anything different this time compared with previous work?
    • were there staffing changes?

Additional questions to consider are, “Has anyone been injured performing similar jobs or working with similar equipment in the school district?” “Has this employee been injured before while completing this task?” and “Were there any concerns about the safety of the task, equipment, or environmental conditions brought to management’s attention before the incident occurred?”

When analyzing the information gathered from an incident, OSHA advises looking beyond the immediate causes. It can be far too easy, and often misleading, to conclude that carelessness or failure to follow a procedure alone was the cause of an incident. To do so avoids discovering the root cause, or causes, and therefore fails to identify the systemic changes needed to prevent future incidents. When a shortcoming is identified, it is important to ask why it existed and why it was not previously addressed.

As an investigation concludes, implement corrective actions and track them. A few corrective actions will already have been implemented immediately after the accident. If policy and procedural updates are recommended, training updates will also be required. These actions must also be recorded in the final investigation documentation. Information sharing, between supervisors inside and outside the building, is essential. Such communication may result in a positive effect, creating standard operating procedures, training, and other improvements throughout the school district.

Properly conducted and well-documented incident investigations will ultimately reduce or eliminate workplace injuries. Accidents can happen in the workplace but gathering information to identify their root cause can eliminate the potential for future injuries. Contact the Comp Alliance Risk Management Director, Robert Blaisdell, at for more details on the investigation process.

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