Do you have a plan for investigating work injuries?

A workplace injury just occurred. The injured worker received appropriate medical care. What do you do next?

Poor accident analyses can cause more accidents, because they likely do not identify root causes. Without identifying root causes, your corrective actions could simply be guesses. If you’ve prepared an accident analysis plan ahead of time, you’ll feel confident that you’re taking the correct steps to investigate and address the causes, so you can prevent similar incidents in the future.

You’ll demonstrate your commitment to a safe work environment while avoiding injuries and unnecessary financial costs.


Make a plan

To be ready to act when the time comes, you’ll need a post-accident analysis plan. These four steps will help you create a blueprint for investigating that you can initiate immediately following an incident:

1. Determine who should investigate workplace accidents

The right investigator may be the supervisor, who knows the employees involved and the job functions. Investigations could also be led by members of your safety committee, management, safety personnel or a third party.

2. Create a written plan

In the plan, be sure to include:

  • The purpose of investigating incidents. Make it clear the goal is to identify causes and make corrections, not to place blame.
  • Who will initiate and conduct each investigation, who will review the findings and who will implement corrective action.
  • What types of incidents must be investigated. You may decide to investigate all medically treated incidents, or near misses that could have resulted in severe injuries. Many companies with the best loss prevention track records have policies to investigate all incidents.
  • When, where and how to investigate for timely and thorough results.

3. Provide training on how to investigate

Teach the four-point approach to accident investigations to anyone you’ve identified as investigators. Use our Accident Analysis Worksheet as a guide.

4. Communicate your accident investigation policy

Communicate to everyone in the company your commitment to investigating and preventing accidents. Depending on your organization, this may be a policy in your employee handbook.

Now you have an accident analysis plan ready to be put into motion after any incident.


The four-point approach to investigation

If an injury occurs, use your plan and this systematic approach to investigate.

1. Collect data

Ideally, accidents should be investigated right away. Talk to witnesses as soon as possible. Take pictures and review maintenance and training records.

2. Identify the causes

By identifying the causes (there could be several), you can reduce the risk of a similar incident occurring. Accident investigation looks at four possible causes:

  • Equipment: Is it working properly? Are the guards and other safety precautions present and functioning?
  • At-risk behaviors: Were there safety procedures that weren’t implemented? Are safety procedures routinely enforced? Was the employee working alone?
  • Personnel: Was the employee properly trained for this particular job? Which shift was the employee working, and how long was the employee’s shift? Was the employee wearing personal protective equipment?
  • Environment: Was the work area properly lighted? Were work surfaces and the floor free of clutter? Was noise an issue? What about chemicals or dust? Was space sufficient to do the task? Was the workspace adjusted to the employee’s ergonomic needs?

3. Analyze the findings

Examine the facts and observations. Distinguish between immediate causes and underlying causes. Immediate causes could be things like a broken rung on a ladder or other mechanical failure, or an unsafe actions such as running instead of walking. Underlying causes are things like poor machine maintenance, a missing machine guard, a crowded work area or lack of training.

4. Develop a plan for corrective action

Here’s where you have a chance to learn from what’s happened and take steps to prevent it from happening again. Make recommendations to remedy each of the possible causes you identified. For example, you might suggest changes to machinery, work procedures, employee training, safety process or personnel.

By thoroughly analyzing all of the contributing factors in a workplace accident, you’ll be able to eliminate risks and make changes that could prevent a future injury.


Test your report

Double-check that your analysis does the following:

  • It addresses causation and uses the model the organization has selected.
  • A person who is unfamiliar with the workplace and the process can understand what happened.
  • The report avoids acronyms and industry-specific language that someone outside the organization would not understand.
  • The report is absent of guesswork and reports only facts.
  • It includes a process for making and tracking recommendations. Recommendations should be assigned to a specific person.

SFM’s Accident Analysis worksheet offers an easy-to-follow checklist for investigations.


This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

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