Think how great it is to point to a completed job and say, “We produced this, and no one got hurt.” While, as an owner, you strive to keep your employees safe every day, accidents do happen. The key is to have a plan in place that enables you to respond to the accident quickly and identify safety measures to prevent future, similar accidents from occurring in the future.
Incident Investigations are an important tool in developing a strong safety program and culture, because it turns a reactive process into a proactive process. Addressing the conditions which caused the incident can not only help prevent a recurrence but can also improve the efficiency and production of your business operation.
Five Benefits of Conducting Incident Investigations
- They help uncover the causes of production interruptions and can indicate the corrective action to be taken.
- They help prevent incident recurrence.
- They can reduce the distress and suffering caused by the incident.
- They can mitigate economic losses resulting from injured employees, damaged tools, machines, property and materials.
- They help identify ways, methods, and procedures that can be improved.
Conducting An Incident Investigation
First, it is important to have a plan and a reporting system developed and in place at your company. All employees should be familiar with your safety program and the expectations you set regarding incident investigation practices. It is important to emphasize that the purpose of the program is not to assign blame, but to find and implement solutions to improve work performance.
David Lynn, CPS in Professional Safety, outlines four critical stages for incident investigation that can help companies create a transparent workplace where employees and employers share in the responsibility of preventing workplace injuries. Mr. Lynn’s four critical stages are summarized as follows:
Stage 1: Reporting
Companies cannot investigate what they don’t know about. Make sure your program encourages employees to report all incidents, including first-aid injuries, recordable injuries and incidents that result in sizeable property damage. Sometimes the correction of a small problem can prevent a larger issue down the road. Key steps in this stage are to:
- Establish timeframes for how quickly employees should report incidents.
- Eliminate any punitive action for reporting.
- Communicate the protocol for who should be notified in the organization for all situations.
Stage 2: Conduct the Investigation
Completing the paperwork is necessary, but needs to go beyond just filling out a report. Actively collecting and sharing the information of each step prior, during and after an accident occurred is important. Management at all levels needs to be involved in this step.
In addition, investigations should be conducted as soon as possible following the report of the incident so that facts are fresh, witnesses are available, and information can be collected at the incident site.
Here’s what should be explored:
- Presence of unsafe practices that departed from established procedure.
- Presence of unsafe conditions – physical defects, errors in design of equipment, tools or workstations, faulty planning, or omission of recognized safety requirement.
- Environmental factors, including noise, lighting, weather, and work area.
- Source of the incident – tool, material or equipment involved in the incident.
- The type of incident – manner in which the person was injured or the property was damaged.
- Part of body affected – identify all part(s) of the body that incurred injury.
- The personal factor – reason for the person’s action; did they receive adequate training or understand the established procedures.
- Ergonomic factors – technique, posture or motions used, as well as frequency of the task (per minute or per hour), and weights handled
Stage 3: Create Sustainable Correction Actions
Each step that is outlined in an incident report represents an opportunity to change the outcome. Corrective actions should address the elements that contributed to the injury. These key steps need to be applied toward corrective actions:
- Address appropriate elements with sustainable corrective actions.
- Ensure that corrective action measures address all contributory causes.
- Share the report with all relevant managers and supervisors.
- Define who is responsible for making corrections.
- Track and log corrective actions and completion dates.
Stage 4: Communicate Lessons Learned
This stage should be a priority for every company. Supervisors need to communicate the event to help ensure a similar incident does not occur. It is important to make the lessons learned memorable for workers, which can be done by:
- Using the story of the event (without sharing personal/private information) to make a lasting impression on employees.
- Creating triggers that will prompt people to think about the incident.
- Communicating the impact and the actions taken to prevent another event.
Following these steps when conducting an incident investigation can help companies create a full circle process that turns a reactive situation into a proactive tool.
Acadia’s Loss Control team can assist customers with the development of an effective incident investigation program. For additional information or for a handbook, please contact your local loss control representative.
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