Conducting Effective Interviews
Digging Up the Facts
After you have initially documented the accident scene, the next step is to start digging for additional details by conducting interviews.
This activity is perhaps the most difficult part of an investigation. This module will help you understand how to set up an interview and develop interview questions. The module will also discuss how to organize the interview and the participants to most effectively get accurate information.
Seven "Rights" of the Interview Process
The purpose of the accident investigation interview is to obtain an accurate and comprehensive picture of what happened. To do that, the interviewer must demonstrate personal leadership and skill in conducting the interview. Since leadership is all about doing the right thing, I came up with seven "rights" to help us remember what we should do to make sure the interview process is effective. So, here are those seven rights...
Be sure you ask the:
- Right people the
- Right questions at the
- Right time in the
- Right place in the
- Right way for the
- Right reason to uncover the
- Right facts
Cooperation is the Key
Cooperation not intimidation is the key to a successful accident investigation interview. It's very counterproductive to give the impression in any way that can be interpreted by the interviewee as trying to establish blame. The purpose of the accident interview is to uncover additional information about the hazardous conditions, unsafe work practices, and related system weaknesses that contributed to the accident. Consequently, it's very important that effective techniques to establish trust and a cooperative atmosphere be used by the interviewer during the process.
What are effective ways to increase cooperation in the accident interview process? What communication strategies might increase the likelihood of an adversarial relationship in the interview? As you conduct interviews, gaining experience along the way, you'll further develop the "art" of interviewing by improving your ability to apply these techniques.
Preparing for the Interview
Your first task is to determine who to interview. You will need to design your questions around the interviewee. Consequently, each interview will be a very unique experience. Interviews should occur as soon as possible, but usually they do not happen until things have settled down just a bit. Below are some people you may want to consider interviewing.
- The victim: To determine the immediate events leading up to and including the accident.
- Co-workers: To establish what actual vs. appropriate procedures are being used.
- Direct supervisor: To get background information on the victim. He or she can provide procedural information about the task that was being performed, the training provided, workload, scheduling, and resources being provided.
- Manager: To get information on related operational and safety management programs/systems.
- Training department: To get information on quantity and quality of training the victim and others have received.
- Personnel department: To get information on the victim's and other employees' work history, discipline, appraisals.
- Maintenance personnel: To determine background on corrective and preventive maintenance.
- Emergency responders: To learn what they saw and did when responding to the accident.
- Medical personnel: To get medical information (as allowed by law).
- Coroner: Can be a valuable source to determine type/extent of fatal injuries.
- Police: If they filed a report.
- Other interested persons: Anyone interested in the accident may be a valuable source of information.
- The victim's spouse and family: They may have insight into the victim's state of mind or other work issues.
Effective Interviewing Techniques
An important aspect of your job, as the interviewer, is to construct a composite story or "word picture" of what happened using the various accounts of the accident and other evidence. To do that, you will need to understand effective interview techniques and be able to skillfully apply those techniques.
It's important to remember that you are conducting an accident investigation, not a criminal investigation. These two interview processes may be similar, but each has a unique purpose. Each process requires different techniques to achieve the intended purpose. The last thing you want to do in an accident investigation is to come down hard (be accusatory) on an interviewee. So let's take a look at some effective techniques that will assure you get to the facts...not find fault.
- Keep the purpose of the investigation in mind: To determine the cause of the accident so that similar accidents will not recur. The interview process is not conducted to determine liability, but to determine the facts so that any and all safety management system design and implementation weaknesses can be improved. Make sure the interviewee understands this point: "We don't want you or anyone else to get hurt like this again."
- Do not interview more than one person at a time. When others hear an interviewee's account of what happened, their own stories will probably change in some way.
- First, ask for background information like name, job, and phone number. Then, simply have the witness tell you what happened. Let them talk, and you just listen. Don't ask them "if" they can explain what happened, because they may respond with a simple "no," and that's that.
- Approach the investigation with an open mind. It will be obvious if you have preconceptions about the individuals or the facts.
- Go to the scene. Just because you are familiar with the location or the victim's job, don't assume that things are always the same. If you can't conduct a private interview at the location, find an office or meeting room that the interviewee considers a "neutral" location.
- Put the person at ease. Explain the purpose and your role. Sincerely express concern regarding the accident and desire to prevent a similar occurrence.
- Tell the interviewee that the information they give is important. It's important to say it's "important".
- Be friendly, understanding, and open minded. Be calm and unhurried.
More Effective Interviewing Techniques
Effective Interviewing Techniques
- Don't ask leading questions; don't interrupt; and don't make expressions (facial, verbal of approval or disapproval).
- Do ask open-ended questions to clarify particular areas or get specifics. Try to avoid closed-ended questions that require a simple yes and no answer. Try to avoid asking "why-you" questions as these type of questions tend to make people respond defensively. Example: Do not ask: "Why did you drive the forklift with under-inflated tires? Rather, ask: What are forklift inspection procedures? or "Tell me about the forklift inspection procedure."
- Repeat the facts and sequence of events back to the person to avoid any misunderstandings.
- Notes should be taken very carefully, and as casually as possible. Let the individual read your notes so that they can possibly fill in missing information and correct inaccuracies. Give the interviewee a copy of the notes. Have the interviewee initial that they have read and found the notes accurate.
- Don't use a tape recorder unless you get permission. Tell the interviewee that the purpose of the recorder is to make sure the information is accurate. Offer to give the interviewee a copy of the tape.
- If the interviewee wants to have someone witness the interview, that's fine. In most union environments, this is an employee right.
- Ask for the interviewee's opinion about what caused the accident and what can be done to make sure it doesn't happen again. Do not accept answers that accuse or place blame. Note: There is never enough information to establish blame at this phase of the investigation. Only after the investigation is complete and closed out will the need for discipline be discussed, and that's usually the responsibility of the supervisor and the Human Resource Department, not the accident investigator.
- Conclude the interview with a statement of appreciation for their contribution. Ask them to contact you if they think of anything else. If possible, relay the outcome of the investigation to each person who was interviewed. Again, do not discuss the possibility of disciplinary action.
Understanding and applying the information above during the interview process will help establish a high level of trust and a cooperative relationship so that you can get to the facts. Remember, intimidation and placing blame has no place in the accident investigation process and besides, it just doesn't work.
Okay, now that you are an ace interviewer, it's time to take the module quiz.
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.