Initiating the Investigation
The accident investigation process we will discuss in this course will make sense if you understand that ultimately, the purpose of the investigation is to improve the safety management system. Conducting the investigation for any other reason will likely result in ineffective solutions.
In this course we'll discuss a six-step process for conducting accident investigations.
- Secure and Document the accident scene
- Conduct interviews
- Develop the sequence of events
- Conduct cause analysis
- Determine the solutions
- Write the report
Securing the Accident Scene
The first step in an effective accident investigation procedure is to secure the accident scene as soon as possible so that we can accurately gather facts. At this point, you are not yet interested in what "caused" the accident. Instead, you should focus on making the accident scene secure so that you can gather as much pertinent information as possible.
To secure the accident scene, simply use yellow caution tape, place warning cones, or post a guard to keep people away.
When should I start the investigation?
That's a good question, and the basic answer is that you should begin when it is safe to do so. As the accident investigator, you don't want to get in the way of emergency responders. It's also not safe to start if hazards have not been properly mitigated.
Reasons for Securing the Accident Scene
It's always important to know why we are doing something, isn't it? In this situation, we need to prevent material evidence from being removed or relocated in some way. This is especially true if the accident is a reportable (serious or fatal) injury that might trigger an OSHA accident investigation.
Remember, at the request of OSHA, the employer must mark for identification, materials, tools or equipment necessary to the proper investigation of an accident. It is important that material evidence does not somehow get lost or "walk off" the scene.
Things Disappear after an Accident
Material evidence: Material evidence is anything that might be important in helping us find out what happened. Somehow, tools, equipment, and other items just seem to move. The employer is anxious to "clean up" the accident scene so that people can get back to work. It's important to develop a procedure to protect material evidence so that it does not get moved or disappear. If evidence disappears, I'm sure you can see why it might be difficult to uncover the surface causes for the accident. If you can't uncover the surface causes, it will be almost impossible to discover and correct the root causes. We'll talk more about surface and root causes later in the course.
Memory: Accidents are traumatic events that result in both physical and psychological trauma. Of course, there may be physical trauma to the victim and others. Varying degrees of psychological trauma may also result depending on how "close" an individual is to the accident or victim. Everyone is affected somehow. As the length of time after an accident increases, thoughts and emotions distort what people believe they saw and heard. Conversations with others further distort reality. After a while, the memory of everyone associated in any way with the accident will be altered in some way. With that in mind, it's important to get written statements and conduct interviews as soon as possible.
Reporting Accidents to OSHA
If your company is in the private sector, and a serious accident or fatality occurs, you may be required to report it to your State or Federal OSHA office.
Let's take a look at the OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1904.39, Reporting fatalities, hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye as a result of work-related incidents to OSHA, for the specific requirements.
Within eight (8) hours after the death of any employee as a result of a work-related incident, you must report the fatality to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Department of Labor.
Within twenty-four (24) hours after the in-patient hospitalization of one or more employees or an employee's amputation or an employee's loss of an eye, as a result of a work-related incident, you must report the in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye to OSHA.
You must report the event using one of the following methods:
- By telephone or in person to the OSHA Area Office that is nearest to the site of the incident.
- By telephone to the OSHA toll-free central telephone number, 1-800-321-OSHA (1-800-321-6742).
- By electronic submission using the reporting application located on OSHA's public website.
If the Area Office is closed, may I report the incident by leaving a message on OSHA's answering machine, faxing the area office, or sending an e-mail?
No, if you can't talk to a person at the Area Office, you must report the event using the 800 number.
What information do I need to give to OSHA about the in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye?
You must give OSHA the following information for each fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye:
- the establishment name;
- the location of the work-related incident;
- the time of the work-related incident;
- the type of reportable event (i.e., fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye);
- the number of employees who suffered a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye;
- the names of the employees who suffered a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye;
- your contact person and his or her phone number; and
- a brief description of the work-related incident.
Reporting Accidents to OSHA (Continued)
Do I have to report a motor vehicle accident?
No, you do not have to report the accident if it occurred on a public street or highway. Yes, if it occurred in a construction work zone.
Do I have to report an event that occurs on a commercial or public transportation system?
No, if it occurred on a commercial airplane, train, subway or bus accident. However, these injuries must be recorded on your OSHA injury and illness records, if you are required to keep such records.
Do I have to report a fatality caused by a heart attack at work?
Yes, your local OSHA Area Office director will decide whether to investigate the incident, depending on the circumstances of the heart attack.
What if the fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye does not occur during or right after the work-related incident?
No, You must only report a fatality to OSHA if the fatality occurs within thirty (30) days of the work-related incident. For an in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye, you must only report the event to OSHA if it occurs within twenty-four (24) hours of the work-related incident. However, the fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye must be recorded on your OSHA injury and illness records, if you are required to keep such records.
What if I don't learn about a reportable fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye right away?
If you do not learn about a reportable fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye at the time it takes place, you must make the report to OSHA within the following time period after the fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye is reported to you or to any of your agent(s): Eight (8) hours for a fatality, and twenty-four (24) hours for an in-patient hospitalization, an amputation, or a loss of an eye.
How does OSHA define "in-patient hospitalization"?OSHA defines inpatient hospitalization as a formal admission to the in-patient service of a hospital or clinic for care or treatment.
Do I have to report an in-patient hospitalization that involves only observation or diagnostic testing?No, you do not have to report an in-patient hospitalization that involves only observation or diagnostic testing. You must only report to OSHA each inpatient hospitalization that involves care or treatment.
How does OSHA define "amputation"?An amputation is the traumatic loss of a limb or other external body part. Amputations include a part, such as a limb or appendage, that has been severed, cut off, amputated (either completely or partially); fingertip amputations with or without bone loss; medical amputations resulting from irreparable damage; amputations of body parts that have since been reattached. Amputations do not include avulsions, enucleations, deglovings, scalpings, severed ears, or broken or chipped teeth.
Well, that was not too bad, was it? Now it's time for your second module quiz. This quiz will help you review some of the important points about securing the accident scene and initiating the investigation.
Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.
Read each question carefully. Select the BEST answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.