• How to Investigate Employee Accidents
  • January 8, 2013 | Author: Dudley F. Woody
  • Law Firm: Woods Rogers PLC - Roanoke Office
  • It really doesn't matter where you work.  Places of employment are potentially dangerous work environments, and while proper training, engineering controls and administrative precautions can help to effectively manage risk, employee accidents can and do happen.  Accidents are inevitable in today’s “pressurized” workplace - even with the best loss control program employees still get in a hurry or get distracted. 

    Nearly 3.0 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers in 2011, resulting in an incidence rate of 3.5 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers, according to estimates from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The rate reported for 2011 was unchanged for the first time in a decade during which the total recordable cases injury and illness incidence rate among private industry employers declined significantly each year since 2002, when estimates were first published using the current OSHA requirements for recording occupational injuries and illnesses.  Slightly more than one-half of the 3.0 million private industry injury and illnesses cases reported nationally in 2011 were of a more serious nature that involved days away from work, job transfer, or restriction--commonly referred to as DART cases.


    1.       Overexertion Injuries

    2.       Slipping/Tripping Injuries

    3.       Falling from Heights

    4.       Reaction Injuries

    5.       Falling Object Injuries

    6.       Walking Into Injuries

    7.       Vehicle Accidents

    8.       Machine Entanglement

    9.       Repetitive Motion Injuries

    10.    On the Job Violent Acts

    Accident prevention often begins with accident investigation. You can't prevent accidents if you don't know what caused them.

    Nobody wants a workplace accident.  Not you.  Not your insurer.  Not supervisors.  Not employees.  Certainly not the families of injured workers.  Employee accidents, while unfortunate, present an opportunity to improve the performance of a facility’s safety program.   Properly conducted accident investigations provide solutions to many workplace hazards.

    • Most importantly, to find out the “root cause” of accidents and to prevent similar accidents in the future

    • To fulfill any legal requirements

    • To determine the cost of an accident

    • To determine compliance with applicable safety regulations

    • To process workers' compensation claims

    OSHA requires you to investigate accidents that cause injury, but having an effective accident investigation process makes good business sense, too. Taking steps to prevent recurrence of an injury can increase production, reduce missed work days, and decrease workers' compensation insurance costs.

    Root Cause Analysis

    When an accident does happen, it's important to handle the investigation promptly, effectively, and legally. To do that, you need to find the root cause.  The easiest way to do that is to consider the why, who, what, when, where, and how of accident investigation.  An investigator who believes that accidents are caused by unsafe conditions will likely try to uncover conditions as causes. On the other hand, one who believes they are caused by unsafe acts will attempt to find the human errors that are causes. Therefore, it is necessary to examine some underlying factors in a chain of events that ends in an accident.

    The important point is that even in the most seemingly straightforward accidents, seldom, if ever, is there only a single cause.   This is the underlying or indirect cause of an accident occurring which is not easily observed or corrected - it is below the surface and not apparent upon first inspection.  It requires a proper investigation to identify, but when properly corrected, will permanently eliminate unsafe behavior or conditions and prevent any future similar accident recurrences.

    In identifying root causes remember that even an error made by an employee may not be even the most important contributing cause. If prescribed procedures have not been followed, the employee may have been encouraged directly or indirectly by a supervisor or by staffing shortages to “cut corners.”  It may be that prescribed procedures may not be practical, or even safe, in the eyes of the employee.  Sometimes where elaborate and difficult procedures are required, engineering redesign might be a better answer.  In such cases, management errors -- not employee error -- may be the most important contributing causes.

    Investigations are useful only when done with the aim of discovering every contributing factor to the accident/incident to "foolproof" the condition and/or activity and prevent future occurrences. In other words, the objective is to identify root causes, not to primarily set blame.

    Collecting and analyzing evidence, finding the root cause, and implementing corrective actions are not difficult tasks, but too few employers have an effective, consistent plan in place.  Identifying the trends are not enough if you do not have some detail of the underlying root causes that led to the event taking place.  We therefore need to define the trends in the underlying causes so that corrective action can be applied.  Sometimes the real underlying cause will only be evident when a number of incidents of the same type are investigated as a group.  The information gained from the individual incidents begins to form a picture when a more detailed group analysis is conducted.

    The accident investigation process involves the following steps:

    1.       Notification and Response

    ØReport the accident occurrence to a designated person within the organization

    ØProvide first aid and medical care to injured person(s)

    ØPrevent further injuries or damage by immediate remediation

    2.       Site Investigation and Interviews

    ØInvestigate the accident

    ØInterview all key witnesses

    3.       Root Cause Analysis

    ØIdentify the causes

    4.       Report of Findings and Review

    5.       Develop and Implement Corrective Measures

    6.       Ongoing Monitoring

    ØEvaluate the effectiveness of the corrective action

    ØMake changes for continuous improvement

    On April 28, 2011, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis stated in a blog post, “Every day in America, 12 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, 3.3 million people suffer a workplace injury from which they may never recover. These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy.”

    The cost of workplace injuries, as summarized by the Secretary of Labor has both indirect and direct costs to businesses and individuals.  For the organization, workers’ compensation payments, costs for legal services, medical costs and increased insurance premiums may be a direct cost of workplace injuries.  According to OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels, “the most disabling injuries (those involving six or more days away from work) cost American employers more than $53 billion a yearover $1 billion a weekin workers’ compensation costs alone.”  On the other hand, businesses may also face indirect costs related to lost productivity, investigations, decreased employee morale, and training replacements due to employee absences.

    Through a systematic approach to recognizing and correcting workplace hazards utilizing root cause analysis in all accident investigations and near misses, you can reduce workplace injuries and fatalities significantly.  All employees need to develop this positive culture towards the reporting of all incidents.  Accidents are an unfortunate reality in workplaces. Errors are made on a daily basis in nearly every place of employment - some with life-altering results.   Research shows that it is flawed procedures rather than flawed employees that are more often the cause of these errors.  By creating a safe learning environment in which all employees can share their misdemeanours, errors and near misses, a culture of learning can be created.  The reporting and investigation of all incidents means an opportunity to prevent the incident from recurring.  If the accident is properly investigated and the root cause found, there is an opportunity to improve safety performance.