Accident Investigation at Work – A short guide

When working on a construction site, preventing accidents isn’t just about preventing injury. Accidents on site can have severe legal implications on you and your employer, as well as delaying the project and potentially preventing you from working in future.

That being said, accidents will sometimes happen, so it’s important to know how to respond.

Why it’s important to investigate accidents on site

When an accident happens on-site, it’s often not anyone’s fault; sometimes circumstances happen to result in a situation where someone gets injured. However, a more realistic scenario is that some gap or fault in risk assessment and prevention allowed such circumstances to occur.

If this happens, it’s vital that the reasons for the accident are determined and the risk assessment and mitigation practices are updated, allowing similar accidents to be prevented in future.

5 main steps of accident investigation at work

Reporting the accident

The first step in investigating an accident is reporting the incident to the relevant staff on site. If the accident isn’t reported, it won’t be able to be investigated.

Vitally, if an accident isn’t reported promptly and competently, legal implications can result, potentially affecting insurance claims and future employment prospects.

Generally, a site will have a specific procedure for reporting an accident, including specialised forms to fill in with details of the incident.

Following this procedure accurately will enable the accident to be investigated rapidly and further incidents to be prevented.

Collecting information about what happened

Once an accident has been reported, the next step involves collecting information about the incident, allowing analysis of the causes and circumstances leading to the accident.

The first source of information about the accident will usually be the form initially used to report it. This form will have sections dedicated to the reporting of details known at the time and is a good starting point for information gathering.

Heading to the location of the incident and sending equipment involved for analysis will allow a detailed picture of the accident to be built. Interviewing those who were involved in the accident is also a valuable source of information.

Details which should be ascertained include where and when the accident occurred, who was present, which equipment and procedures were being used, how the injury occurred and was treated, which safety measures were already in place and how they failed in this instance.

Analysing and interpreting the information

Once the pertinent information has been collected about the incident, it’s possible for staff to analyse the information and work out what went wrong. Often, this is carried out using a ‘flow chart’ or ‘tree’ diagram, allowing investigators to place the events and details in sequential order.

There are numerous benefits to this process, as it allows investigators to determine the ‘root’ cause of the accident, and which events led from it in order until the incident itself occurred.

Details which couldn’t be collected during earlier steps can often be suggested at this stage, though it’s important to avoid unnecessary conjecture about the sequence. It’s at this stage that the failings of the risk assessment and safety procedures often become clear.

How can the risk be prevented in future?

Next, the analysis of the event is used to identify the areas of the risk assessment that needs updating and what measures could be implemented in order to mitigate the risk of such a situation happening again. For some accidents this will be obvious, for example, a lack of eye protection during a task involving caustic chemicals could result in eye damage.

The obvious decision at this stage of the process is to suggest mandatory eye protection during said procedure in future. In reality, it’s unlikely that the decision will be so obvious.

Implementing measures to prevent further accidents

Finally, once new procedures and risk assessments have been written up, it’s important to ensure that they’re actually put into practice. Make the requisite equipment available for staff who need it, and assign a period of time during which the procedure is monitored to ensure compliance with the new rules.

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