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Accident Investigation – Do I have to investigate everything?

- August 15, 2014 by Guest Bloggers (View all posts by Guest)

Sometimes accidents occur for reasons that are not obvious, while at other times, the cause may seem to be clear. It is easy to conclude that a worker was involved in an accident because they were not paying attention or because they violated a safety rule. However, to uncover the root cause, a thorough Accident Investigation needs to be completed.  You must still determine why the worker was not paying attention or chose to violate the safety rule.  This will give you an item to address as a result of your investigation.

An Accident Investigation has two main goals:

  • To determine the cause of the accident
  • To prevent future accidents

When accidents are investigated, the emphasis should be on finding the root cause.  The purpose is to find facts that can lead to actions, not to find fault. This involves identifying all contributing factors and determining the sequence of events that led to the incident.  Accidents are not usually caused by any single event.  The groundwork for what occurred could have been laid days, weeks or even months in advance. The investigator always has to look for deeper causes.  According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), “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.”  Investigating all incidents that occur can help you to identify hazards that have not been addressed and take the appropriate steps to prevent future accidents.

The CCOHS uses the word incident to refer to an unexpected event that escaped causing injury or damage, but had the potential to cause significant harm. However, as noted above, these events tend to be predictable, and in some areas, the term incident includes all types of occurrences without differentiating based on whether damage or injury occurs.  A “near miss” is another term used for an event that could have resulted in damage, but did not.  Near misses should still be investigated to determine whether there are hazards that should be corrected.

An Accident Investigation checklist will help you to remember all of the steps to cover during the process.  Here are some items to include in your checklist:

  • Obtain a complete account of the facts of the injury, including witness statements and pictures of the scene.
  • Determine the sequence of events that led up to the accident or near miss.
  • Assess all hazardous conditions or unsafe acts that contributed to the accident.
  • Determine if anything happened that was unusual prior to the accident and where the abnormality occurred.
  • Determine if the accident involved faulty equipment or machinery.
  • Keep asking why until you are able to answer the question with the root cause of the injury.
  • Take corrective or preventative actions where needed.
  • Seek out solutions and areas for program improvement and/or additional training.
  • Policies and procedures may need to be changed or revised; share your findings with the safety committee and management.
  • Conduct safety briefings with all personnel, not to lay blame or criticize, but to prevent future accidents.


Depending on your industry, your checklist may require some additional steps.  For more information on accident investigations, please check OSHA’s website or feel free to contact your risk manager directly.



“Accident Investigation.” CCOHS.ca. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 20 April 2006. Web. 14 August 2014. http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/investig.html

“Accident/Incident Investigation.”  OSHA.gov. U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, N.D. Web. 14 August 2014. https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/products/topics/incidentinvestigation/index.html