Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership: It’s time to rethink incident investigations


A preventive approach

The following elements need consideration in each targeted SIF:

  • What is the governance structure for the program?
  • Which metrics will be tracked to access the health of the SIF potential risk management plan?
  • How will SIF exposures be initially and systematically identified?
  • What approach will be adopted to eliminate the SIF exposure?
  • When a SIF exposure can’t be eliminated, what management controls will be put in place to ensure it remains controlled?
  • How will the plan address unscheduled SIF exposures?

If we work upfront to build out a risk management plan targeted at SIF exposures, incident investigations become much less daunting. Simply pull up the risk management plan and start asking targeted questions about the effectiveness of the plan.

In process safety, organizations likewise need to move away from viewing investigations as singular activities and instead take advantage of living documents such as well-designed risk registers and hazard and operability studies. These documents typically have a detailed analysis of exposures and controls. They can serve as the foundation for conducting incident investigations, as they provide a valuable resource to help identify whether the exposure was overlooked or if the controls didn’t function as anticipated – and, if not, allow the investigation to focus on why not.

This will be an easy leap for companies moving to this new paradigm because they have detailed and targeted risk management plans for their SIF exposures. For others, it’ll be a big undertaking. These companies either lack a risk management plan or have a gap in knowledge about risk management.

Final thoughts

We aren’t convinced anyone really likes doing incident investigations. It’s more rewarding to work on the preventive side, addressing system flaws before someone suffers.

Although no organization can completely step away from the incident investigation process, refocusing the approach allows more time to improve the deficiencies found within a management system and, ultimately, safety performance.


This article represents the views of the authors and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Don GrooverDon Groover is the general manager of DEKRA North America ( He works with senior executives and leadership teams throughout the world to help them develop an understanding of the current state of exposure control and to develop strategic safety-driven culture change.

Mike SnyderMike Snyder is the managing director for DEKRA North America’s process safety practice. He is an occupational and process safety leader with extensive chemical and municipal risk management sector experience, who guides organizations in pragmatic and cost-effective risk management decision-making.


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