Pre-planning for incident investigations

How should we prepare to conduct our own incident investigations?

Responding is Tricia S. Hodkiewicz, editor – workplace safety, J. J. Keller & Associates Inc., Neenah, WI.

Answer: Preparation is the key to an effective workplace incident investigation. The period following an incident is no time to select a team, introduce them to investigation procedures and figure out where you put your camera. The longer you scramble to get ready to actually investigate, the more likely critical facts will be lost. As you wait, physical evidence might be moved, swept up or hosed down by well-meaning employees, and witness recollections will start to fade. Therefore, it’s a good idea to pre-plan for incident investigations before an incident occurs in your workplace. These preparations include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Develop a written plan. A plan standardizes your investigation practices. Typical plan elements will provide procedures to control the incident scene, collect information, determine the root causes of an incident, develop corrective actions and report findings to upper management. They also might include a list of investigation team members and their duties, training topics and a checklist of investigation kit contents.
  • Assemble an investigation kit. To conduct an investigation, you’ll need to pull together some basic equipment and store it in a central location where investigation team members have access. For first aid and emergency response, the kit should include a first aid kit, biohazard containers, a cell phone, a flashlight and personal protective equipment. To control the scene, you’ll need barricade tape, cones, a plastic tarp and rope. A camera and film, chalk and chalk line, a tape recorder, extra batteries, and writing and sketching tools should help you gather data and perform witness interviews. In addition, be sure to add some sampling and measuring supplies, such as plastic bags, labels, tape, scissors and a ruler.
  • Organize a team. Team members may vary depending on the type of incident. However, a typical investigation team might include a supervisor and employee from the incident area; environmental, safety and health professionals; engineering and maintenance personnel; equipment operator; and others as appropriate. You might recruit a consultant, insurance agent or firefighter for special knowledge and a different perspective. Also consider appointing a team chairperson to determine the direction of an investigation, assign tasks, set deadlines and communicate with upper management.
  • Train employees. All employees, including upper management, should be acquainted with the benefits of incident investigations, how to report an incident, what the investigation team does and how the final incident investigation reports are used. This awareness training should help you elicit better results when performing interviews. Be sure to familiarize investigation team members with your procedures for sampling, taking photographs, interviewing witnesses and other duties. Team members need to know how to determine root causes and develop corrective actions, as well as how to write an investigation report. They should also be trained not to enter an incident scene until the area is safe to enter.

Editor’s Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as National Safety Council endorsements.


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