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Incident Investigations


When workplace incidents happen, they must be investigated properly and by the right individuals. As incidents have the potential to result in injury, illness, and fatalities, it is important for the investigators to identify the root cause so future incidents can be prevented. Key areas to explore include the task, material, environment, personnel, and management. By taking a deeper look into these areas, investigators can find out the facts, and create and implement a plan for corrective action.

on the photo of today, you will have knowledge on how to conduct an incident investigation in the workplace, including who should do the investigation, and how to conduct, conclude and communicate findings. See the Incident Investigation Technique guideline for additional information and resources.

What is an incident and why should it be investigated?

The term incident can be defined as an occurrence, condition, or situation arising in the course of work that resulted in or could have resulted in injuries, illnesses, damage to health, or fatalities.

The term “accident” is also commonly used and can be defined as an unplanned event that interrupts the completion of an activity, and that may (or may not) include injury or property damage. Some make a distinction between accident and incident. They use the term incident to refer to an unexpected event that did not cause injury or damage at that time but had the potential. “Near miss” or “dangerous occurrence” are also terms for an event that could have caused harm but did not.

Please note: The term incident is used in some situations and jurisdictions to cover both an “accident” and “incident”. It is argued that the word “accident” implies that the event was related to fate or chance. When the root cause is determined, it is usually found that many events were predictable and could have been prevented if the right actions were taken – making the event not one of fate or chance (thus, the word incident is used). For simplicity, we will now use the term incident to mean all of the above events.

The information that follows is intended to be a general guide for employers, supervisors, health and safety committee members, or members of an incident investigation team. When incidents are investigated, the emphasis should be concentrated on finding the root cause of the incident so you can prevent the event from happening again. The purpose is to find facts that can lead to corrective actions, not to find fault. Always look for deeper causes. Do not simply record the steps of the event.

Reasons to investigate a workplace incident include:

  • most importantly, to find out the cause of incidents and to prevent similar incidents in the future
  • to fulfill any legal requirements
  • to determine the cost of an incident
  • to determine compliance with applicable regulations (e.g., occupational health and safety, criminal, etc.)
  • to process workers’ compensation claims

The same principles apply to an inquiry of a minor incident and to the more formal investigation of a serious event. Most importantly, these steps can be used to investigate any situation (e.g., where no incident has occurred … yet) as a way to prevent an incident.

Who should do the investigating?

Ideally, an investigation would be conducted by someone or a group of people who are:

  • experienced in incident causation models,
  • experienced in investigative techniques,
  • knowledgeable of any legal or organizational requirements,
  • knowledgeable in occupational health and safety fundamentals,
  • knowledgeable in the work processes, procedures, persons, and industrial relations environment for that particular situation,
  • able to use interview and other person-to-person techniques effectively (such as mediation or conflict resolution),
  • knowledgeable of requirements for documents, records, and data collection; and
  • able to analyze the data gathered to determine findings and reach recommendations.

Some jurisdictions provide guidance such as requiring that the incident must be conducted jointly, with both management and labor represented, or that the investigators must be knowledgeable about the work processes involved.

Members of the team can include:

  • employees with knowledge of the work
  • supervisor of the area or work
  • safety officer
  • health and safety committee
  • union representative, if applicable
  • employees with experience in investigations
  • “outside” experts
  • a representative from local government or police
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