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Course 702 - Effective Accident Investigation

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Step 1: Secure the Accident Scene

Employee taking pictures of a scene of an accident
Secure the scene and document.

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.

1. What is the first step in the accident investigation process?

a. Report the accident to OSHA
b. Secure the accident scene
c. Develop the sequence of events
d. Determine who is at fault
Barricade in front of a crane
Secure the scene to make sure evidence isn't lost.

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.

2. At the request of OSHA, the employer must ensure materials, tools, or equipment necessary to the proper investigation of an accident are _____.

a. removed for labeling
b. provided as needed
c. marked for identification
d. forwarded via registered mail

Things Disappear After an Accident

Scene of an accident with various items scattered around
Material evidence may disappear.

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.

3. What happens to "the story" as the length of time after an accident increases?

a. The accuracy of what employees saw increases as they discuss the accident
b. Thoughts distort what witnesses believe they saw
c. The guilty party is less likely to be identified
d. Dwelling on the accident solidifies an employee's story

Reporting Accidents to OSHA

A chart explaining when to report and accident to OSHA
When to report to OSHA.
(Click to enlarge)

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.

Basic Requirements

Within 8 hours after the death of any employee as a result of a work-related accident, you must report the fatality to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Department of Labor.

Within 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 accident, 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 accident.
  • 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.

Click on the button to see what information you must give OSHA for each fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.

  • the establishment name;
  • the location of the work-related accident;
  • the time of the work-related accident;
  • 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.

4. How soon after a work-related death of an employee should you report it to OSHA?

a. 8 hours
b. 12 hours
c. 16 hours
d. 24 hours

Reporting Accidents - Additional Information

OSHA's Detailed Guidance for Injury and Illness Recordkeeping provides general guidance about OSHA's recordkeeping rule and provides links to more detailed guidance. The questions and answers in the Additional guidance portion of this document do not themselves impose enforceable recordkeeping or reporting obligations; such obligations are imposed only by the regulation.

Read the question at the bottom of this page and find the answer by scrolling down OSHA's Standard 1904.39, Reporting Reporting fatalities, hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye as a result of work-related incidents to OSHA.

1904.39(a) Basic requirement.

  • 1904.39(a)(1) 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.

  • 1904.39(a)(2) 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.

  • 1904.39(a)(3)You must report the fatality, inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye using one of the following methods:

    • 1904.39(a)(3)(i) By telephone or in person to the OSHA Area Office that is nearest to the site of the incident.

    • 1904.39(a)(3)(ii) By telephone to the OSHA toll-free central telephone number, 1-800-321-OSHA (1-800-321-6742).

    • 1904.39(a)(3)(iii) By electronic submission using the reporting application located on OSHA's public Web site at www.osha.gov.

1904.39(b)Implementation

  • 1904.39(b)(1) If the Area Office is closed, may I report the fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye by leaving a message on OSHA's answering machine, faxing the Area Office, or sending an email? No, if the Area Office is closed, you must report the fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye using either the 800 number or the reporting application located on OSHA's public Web site at www.osha.gov.

  • 1904.39(b)(2) 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:

    • 1904.39(b)(2)(i) The establishment name;

    • 1904.39(b)(2)(ii) The location of the work-related incident;

    • 1904.39(b)(2)(iii) The time of the work-related incident;

    • 1904.39(b)(2)(iv) The type of reportable event (i.e., fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye);

    • 1904.39(b)(2)(v) The number of employees who suffered a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye;

    • 1904.39(b)(2)(vi) The names of the employees who suffered a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye;

    • 1904.39(b)(2)(vii) Your contact person and his or her phone number; and

    • 1904.39(b)(2)(viii) A brief description of the work-related incident.

  • 1904.39(b)(3) Do I have to report the fatality, inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye if it resulted from a motor vehicle accident on a public street or highway? If the motor vehicle accident occurred in a construction work zone, you must report the fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. If the motor vehicle accident occurred on a public street or highway, but not in a construction work zone, you do not have to report the fatality, inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye to OSHA. 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.

  • 1904.39(b)(4) Do I have to report the fatality, inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye if it occurred on a commercial or public transportation system? No, you do not have to report the fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye to OSHA if it occurred on a commercial or public transportation system (e.g., airplane, train, subway, or bus). 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.

  • 1904.39(b)(5) Do I have to report a work-related fatality or in-patient hospitalization caused by a heart attack? Yes, your local OSHA Area Office director will decide whether to investigate the event, depending on the circumstances of the heart attack.

  • 1904.39(b)(6) What if the fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye does not occur during or right after the work-related incident? 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.

  • 1904.39(b)(7) 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.

  • 1904.39(b)(8) What if I don't learn right away that the reportable fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye was the result of a work-related incident? If you do not learn right away that the reportable fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye was the result of a work-related incident, you must make the report to OSHA within the following time period after you or any of your agent(s) learn that the reportable fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye was the result of a work-related incident: Eight (8) hours for a fatality, and twenty-four (24) hours for an inpatient hospitalization, an amputation, or a loss of an eye.

  • 1904.39(b)(9) 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.

  • 1904.39(b)(10) 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.

  • 1904.39(b)(11) 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.

5. Which of the following accidents must be reported to OSHA?

a. A heart attack that occurs off work
b. Motor vehicle accidents on public street or highway
c. Accidents that occur on commercial or public transportation system
d. Fatality that occurs within 30 days of a work-related incident

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.

Are All Accidents Preventable?

Are All Accidents Preventable? Terry L. Mathis, CEO of ProAct Safety shares some very important thoughts on this subject as well as some strategies and language to address this vital perception within your safety culture.

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Updated 12/19/2021