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Why Investigate Incidents or Accidents, No One Else Thinks We Should?

July 20, 2014

Article by: Wayne Harris

ISQEM Accident Investigation Course

We have all heard it before, “why does the safety guy insist on investigating all incidents, it’s just wasting everyone’s time and slowing down the job” or “You don’t understand these things happen all the time so why bother?

If this sounds familiar then it’s time to step back and look at your company’s approach to accident prevention, and employees perception of the value of reporting and conducting investigations.

Now one question which commonly comes up “is it really realistic to investigate all incidents or accidents”’ well the answer is of course a definite YES. The problem is many organisations fail to define to what level the investigations should be conducted, or how they will be utilised for accident prevention.

One common precursor that can cause investigations to fail is being restricted to following corporate timelines and standard report form structures. It can seriously stifle the investigator and often ends up with a poorly constructed report. This approach ultimately devalues the investigation and creates the miss-conception that it is just a paper exercise.

Incident or Accident Definition

There are many definitions around to describe an incident or accident and many organisations have made this into an overtly complex process. We have everything from near-misses, near-hits, restricted work cases, recordable, lost time, high impact, to an endless stream of other definitions, titles and acronyms. From an investigators point of view it is irrelevant on the terms used.

To make things simple the following two definitions generally apply.

Incident –  Any event, which under different circumstances, may have resulted in injury or ill-health of people, or damage to property, plant, materials or the environment or other business loss”.

Accident – “An unplanned event that resulted in injury or ill-health to people, or damage or loss to property, plant, materials or the environment or other business loss”.

So why should we investigate?

ISQEM Accident Investigation Course

As I have already stated, all incidents should be investigated and it’s for one simple reason to stop them from happening again. Now this might sound quite basic but let’s put this in to reality, the main purpose of investigation is to identify the causation factors and then identify any preventive or corrective action to prevent reoccurrence.

There are also many other reasons for investigating including company reputation, insurance claims, workers compensation payments to legal litigation cases and sometimes contractual requirements.

We must remember any investigation has certain deliverables and expected outcomes. That is why we need to continually assess and evaluate throughout the investigation, so that we can continue to proceed down the appropriate path.

Changing people’s perception about incident/accident investigations?

There are 3 simple steps you can take to raise the importance of incident / accident investigations;

Management and Supervisors Roles and Responsibilities

Make sure you incorporate incident investigations into management and supervisors roles and responsibilities. By involving people you will get them to understand the benefits and also have a direct involvement in coming up with practicable and sustainable corrective actions. However you must ensure that they have been given training on accident/incident investigations or they will not understand the basic steps involved.

Guidelines for conducting Investigations

Have clear guidelines on the investigation process so that people can choose and use the appropriate tools in relation to the severity of any incident or accident that may take place. This may include, analysis techniques, evidence gathering, to conducting accident investigation in specialist areas of operation.

Communication and follow-up

One of the key elements in accident prevention is the communication process. It is vital that communication is maintained from the start of the investigation to final conclusion of corrective or preventive actions. This does not just mean issuing an incident safety alert. It is about communicating at all levels of the organisation at different stages of the investigation. Remember, the more communication the better, as it will re-enforce the importance management place on safety and the prevention of accidents.


At the end of the day we cannot always prevent an accident from happening, this is due to the various internal and external factors that can be involved.  What we can do is ensure that whenever possible we put the preventive measures in place to reduce the probability.

The process of incident or accident investigation is one way that can contribute and hopefully prevent someone from being injured or worst case scenario killed at work. So make sure you establish a framework for investigations, before it’s too late.


About the Author:

Wayne Harris is a highly regarded international specialist in developing corporate risk and HSE management systems with over 31 years’ experience. He has advised major organisations both private and governmental, on key issues of strategy and organisational risk and safety management. Working within the international arena including Europe, Asia-Pacific, to the Middle East. Wayne has vast experience investigating major accidents around the world, including many multiple fatality cases and major incidents; he also conducts ISQEM Accident Investigations courses for organisations globally.

  1. Come on everyone give us your views on investigations, are they done correctly or is mainly a paper exercise?

  2. What’s the next best thing to not investigating?

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  1. Why Investigate Incidents or Accidents, No One Else Thinks We Should? | ISQEM | UP Equip

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