Skip Navigation

Course 702 - Effective Accident Investigation

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

Writing the Report


Now that you have accurately assessed and analyzed the facts related to the accident and developed effective corrective actions and system improvements, you must report your findings to those who have the authority to take action. In this module, we'll cover the procedure for effectively reporting the facts.

Man Taking Notes

Perception is Reality

Never forget that your primary objective, as an accident investigator, is to uncover the direct causal (surface causes) and contributory factors (root causes). It should not be your job to conduct the analysis to establish liability: that's playing OSHA if you do. In fact, if your analysis has uncovered any number of secondary surface causes or system weaknesses, justification for employee discipline does not exist because management has not fulfilled its accountabilities. Your challenge is to be as objective and accurate as possible.

Your findings, and how you present them, will shape perceptions and subsequent corrective actions. If your report arrives at conclusions such as..."Bob should have used common sense," or "Bobbie forgot to use PPE," how effective in making safety management system improvements will it be? Of course, it won't be effective at all. If your report concludes with statements like these, it will be virtually impossible to initiate corrective actions that permanently eliminate the causes. It's likely that similar accidents will recur. Bottom line: If the accident investigation doesn't fix the system, it's most likely been a waste of time and effort. Okay, I'll get off the soapbox. Let's look at the report.

Here is a series of Accident Reports with assessments of surface and root causes.

The Accident Report Form

One of the reasons an accident investigation might fail to help eliminate similar accidents, is that the report form is poorly designed. Some poorly designed forms actually make it quite difficult to get beyond identification of only surface causes: root causes are often ignored.

Let's take a look at one format that is designed to emphasize root cause analysis. Take a look at a sample accident report. This is a report format similar to that used by OSHA accident investigators in conducting workplace accident investigations, but it goes further. This form includes the identification of safety management system weaknesses and recommended improvements. You may want to print this form while we discuss the various sections.

The Accident Report Form (Continued)

Section I. Background

This section contains background information that answers questions about who the victim is, and the time, date, location of the accident, as well as other necessary details. Make sure you obtain all of this information for possible later reference.

Section II. Description of the Accident

This section presents a descriptive narrative of the events leading up to, including and immediately after the accident. It's important that the narrative paint a vivid "word picture" so that someone unfamiliar with the accident can clearly see what happened.

Take a look at a sample Section II Description of the accident.

The Accident Report Form (Continued)

Section III. Findings

The findings section describes the hazardous conditions, unsafe behaviors and the system weaknesses your analysis has uncovered. Each description of a surface or root cause will also include justification for the finding. The justification will explain how you came to your conclusion.

Unfortunately, the most common failure found in accident reports is that they address only surface causes. Consequently, similar accidents recur. These report forms may have a format that "forces" the investigator to list only surface causes for accidents. The form does not "report" the system weaknesses associated with each surface cause. Consequently, the investigator believes the job is done without ferreting out the system weaknesses representing the root causes.

Other forms may actually require the investigator to indicate the status of employee negligence. Now, how can the accident investigator assure an interviewee or any other employee that the purpose of the analysis process is to "fix the system -- not the blame," when the report form shouts "negligent"?

To complete this section, just state the facts: The hazardous conditions, unsafe behaviors, practices, and inadequate or missing programs, policies, plans, processes and procedures that produced them. Be sure to write complete descriptive sentences. Not short cryptic phrases.

Take a look at this sample Section III: Findings and Justifications.

The Accident Report Form (Continued)

Section IV. Recommendations

If root causes are not addressed properly in Section III of the report, it is doubtful recommendations in this section will include improving system inadequacies. Effective recommendations will describe ways to eliminate or reduce both surface and root causes. They will also detail estimated costs involved with implementing corrective actions. Let's take a closer look at effective recommendation writing. Review this sample Section IV. Recommendations.

Section V. Summary

This section contains a brief review of the causes of the accident and recommendations for corrective actions. In your review, it's important to include language that contrasts the costs of the accident with the benefits derived from investing in corrective actions. Including bottom-line information will ensure that your recommendation will be understood and appreciated by management.

Open Documents

The accident investigation report should be considered an open document until all of the essential components have been completed. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Background Information
  • Accident Description
  • Investigation Findings
    • Surface causes
    • Root causes
  • Recommendations
    • Corrective actions
    • System improvements
  • Report Summary
  • Report Submitted
    • Safety committee
    • Decision-Maker
  • Improvements Completed
    • Corrective actions
    • System improvements

Well, that winds up the final module in this course. Congrats! Let's get to 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.

Good luck!

1. The primary purpose of the most effective accident investigation report is to _____.

2. All of the following may be weaknesses in an accident report forms, except _____.

3. OSHA's accident investigation reports emphasize system improvement.

4. To be effective, an organization's accident investigation report must _____.

5. The accident investigation report should be considered an open document until _____.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.