Conducting an accident investigation has always been in the safety manager’s realm of expertise. But, what if you expanded your program to include employees?

Investigations don’t have to be limited to just safety or even management.  Valuable insight can come from creating an accident investigation team and a process for what gets investigated, who is involved, and how it is done.

WHAT IS AN ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION TEAM

This is a group of employees at the company who come together to investigate incidents and determine the root cause and contributing causes.  It can be made up of safety, members of management, and employees.

The team also comes up with recommendations for corrective actions.  The final decision of what corrective action to take is up to management, but having their input is extremely helpful.

WHY HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE INVOLVED IN AN ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION?

The more eyes on a problem reduces the risk that something may be missed.  Everyone comes to the table with different experiences, expertise, and motivations. Meaning, safety would look at the situation differently than an operations manager.  Safety may have the horror stories of what could happen, and operations may have seen different solutions at work in other facilities.

Besides, each person may have background information that is related to the incident.

 One time, in an investigation review meeting, the safety manager and i were sure of the root cause. That was until the chief operating officer spoke up about the customer, previous complaints, and their insistence of us delivering products a certain way. It changed the entire investigation.

The more information you can gather, the better.  The more contributing causes you can identify and eliminate, the fewer incidents in the future.

WHAT TO INVESTIGATE

All incidents need to be investigated.  This would be anything that caused injury to a person or damage to property.

Also, near misses should be investigated.  This is where it gets tricky.  What do you call a near miss and what do you call an unsafe condition? And do you investigate both?

So you need to create criteria on what gets investigated.  For example, if the injury only needed one band-aid, you don’t investigate.

As your program gets closer and closer to zero incidents, you will expand your investigation criteria. To start, you may choose just to investigate the near misses that were a close-call or incidents with no injury/damage.

But further along, you add in investigating reported unsafe conditions.

WHO INVESTIGATES WHAT?

The next question is, “does your accident investigation team investigate everything?”  That answer is up to you.

I have seen it where the safety manager and executive take the lead on severe accidents, and the team handles everything else.

I have also seen it where the team is involved in every single one.

Whatever you choose, make a decision on this detail before you create your team.  You need to know what the team will be involved in to determine the level of training they will need.

CREATING YOUR ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION TEAM

Members for your team can be employees only, management only, or a combination of the two.  Choose what would work best for your operation. Having employees involved, though, helps you build a safety culture.

The members you choose should have experience in the operations.  They must be knowledgable about the business and the work being done. It is a good idea to include representation from all areas in the company to cover the intricate practices of the company. Each area adds a different perspective.

Include people with many years with the organization as well as newer employees.  Once again, to have different perspectives.

When an incident happens, the team goes to work.  So the members must be available during most business hours.  If you run multiple shifts, you may choose to have multiple teams. However, one team can make it work.

The team should agree to meet regularly to review the status of open corrective actions.  This is a best practice to keep them in the loop of the effectiveness of their efforts.  They can also do trend analysis and update investigation procedures.

TRAINING YOUR ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION TEAM

Before conducting any investigations the team must be appropriately trained.  Accident investigations are a practice, and they take time to learn how to do them thoroughly.  So don’t make this training quick.

The training must be in-depth and include several examples, case studies, and tabletop investigations. Tabletops are where people role-play the injured and witnesses and conduct an investigation right in the classroom.

You will get the best results with a role-playing training technique.

For more tips on creating trainings, read last week’s article on training techniques.

When you find that your number of incidents to investigate is dropping, you need to add refresher training to the mix.  You don’t want your team’s skills to dimish.  They need to be ready to act when an incident happens.

Refresher training can be done quarterly or every 6 months using the case study or role-playing technique.

WHAT THE PROCESS MAY LOOK LIKE

Here is the flow of what the process of using an accident investigation team may look like.

You see how you can have separate investigations, but the results are combined in the end?

When you have your team in place, and they are trained, your next step is making sure the management team understands your process.  It does not need to be YOU informing the investigation team.

When there are too many links from incident to investigation, there is a chance something will be missed. 

Also, there may already be an accident investigation team member in the area.  They shouldn’t have to wait until you are notified to tell them. They can hear it directly from the front line supervisor or manager.

TAKE ACTION

Start thinking about adding employees into your accident investigation process.  Who comes to mind as a good leader for the team?  What steps do you need to take to get it approved and in place?

Make yourself an action plan. 

When you add this to your process, not only will it make your results better, it also allows for quicker response when an incident happens.  Your company will not have to rely on you getting there right away, they can grab the closest accident investigation team member and fill you in later.

Now It’s Your Turn

I believe accident investigation teams are a great way to get employee involvement and improve the safety culture.  But now I want to know what you think.  Comment below and share your thoughts.

Don’t forget to rate this article and click that share button to post it to your LinkedIn or Facebook profile.  Your safety friends will thank you.

Hi, I’m Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  I train and coach new safety managers on how to effectively do their jobs in the real world.  I specialize in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture.  I would love to help you do the same.

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