There are currently no specific standards for accident investigation. Thousands of accidents occur throughout the United States every day. The failure of people, equipment, supplies, or surroundings to behave or react as expected causes most of them. Accident investigations determine how and why these failures occur. By using the information gained through an investigation, a similar, or perhaps more disastrous, accident may be prevented. It is important to conduct accident investigations with prevention in mind.
WHAT IS AN ACCIDENT?
An accident is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury. An unplanned, uncontrolled event which has led to or could have led to injury to people, damage to a plant, machinery or the environment and/or some other loss.
All accidents and incidents should be investigated. “Near-misses” are considered an incident, because, given a slight change in time or position, injury or damage could have occurred.
WHY SHOULD AN ACCIDENT BE INVESTIGATED?
Most importantly, accidents must be investigated to find out the 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, and to process workers’ compensation claims.
WHAT ARE THE COSTS OF ACCIDENTS?
Direct vs. Indirect: Accidents are more expensive than most people realize because of the hidden costs. Some costs are obvious —for example, Workers’ Compensation claims which cover medical costs and indemnity payments for an injured or ill worker. These are the direct costs of accidents. But what about the costs to train and compensate a replacement worker, repair damaged property, investigate the accident and implement corrective action, and to maintain insurance coverage? Even less apparent are the costs related to schedule delays, added administrative time, lower morale, increased absenteeism, and poorer customer relations. These are the indirect costs —costs that aren’t so obvious.
WHO SHOULD DO THE ACCIDENT INVESTIGATING?
Ideally, an investigation would be conducted by someone experienced in accident causation, experienced in investigative techniques, fully knowledgeable of the work processes, procedures, persons, and industrial relations environment of a particular situation. In most cases, the supervisor should help investigate the event. Other members of the team can include: (1) employees with knowledge of the work (2) safety officer (3) health and safety committee (4) union representative, if applicable (5) employees with experience in investigations (6) “outside” expert (7) OSHA.