How do you carry out a workplace accident investigation and what are the benefits?

Wednesday June 30, 2021

A workplace accident is never welcome, but it may have positive effects. Learning from accidents can help you to correct flaws in your health and safety practices, ensuring there are no repeats.

In some cases, the lessons are obvious. If a worker trips on a loose wire, both the cause of the accident and the solution are clear. Other accidents though can be more complex. This is where an accident investigation can be helpful.

Do I have to carry out an accident investigation?

There is no direct legal requirement for employers to investigate accidents. However, there are two pieces of legislation that suggest it might be necessary.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to implement measures to control risks in the workplace. They state that you should make arrangements for the “control, monitoring and review of the preventive and protective measures that come from risk assessment.” It can be interpreted that the investigating of accidents would fall under this definition.

The Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1987 require employers to “take reasonable steps” to investigate every accident that is reported to them by an employee.

It is important not to confuse accident investigation with accident reporting. This is covered by RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations), and with these regulations the rules are much stricter. You must report serious accidents, long-term illnesses and certain types of near miss to the HSE within ten days. Failing to do this can result in an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison.

If you have ten or more employees, you must also record accidents in an accident book. This goes for every accident, not just those that you plan to investigate.

What is the procedure for an accident investigation?

You can break down an accident investigation into four stages:

Gathering information

You should begin by collecting as much information as possible about the accident:

  • Examine the site of the accident. Look for any objects that are out of place and any equipment that is broken or incorrectly installed.
  • Take photos of the scene for future reference.
  • Talk to everyone who witnessed the accident.

It is important to gather information as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it is to get an accurate idea of what happened.

Analysing information

Next, you should analyse the information you have gathered:

  • Compare witness accounts: Do they agree? Or are there discrepancies?
  • Try to build a timeline of the event. What were the conditions leading up to the accident? And what happened immediately afterwards?
  • Identify the root causes of the accident. This may be a single cause or a combination of causes.
  • Decide whether the accident was caused by an isolated incident or was a symptom of a larger, underlying problem.

Identifying risk control strategies

Once you have identified the cause or causes of the accident, you should come up with ways to address them. If a risk cannot be eliminated altogether, you should try to think of ways to minimise it. Possible risk control strategies include:

  • Clearer signage in hazardous areas
  • Regular inspection of dangerous equipment
  • Additional health and safety training for staff

Creating an action plan

Finally, you should compile your risk control strategies into a written action plan to supplement your written accident investigation report. A senior member of staff should be put in charge of implementing the plan and monitoring its progress. If the suggested actions are not effective enough, the plan should be revisited and adapted. Even if the plan seems to be succeeding, you should review it regularly.

What are the benefits of an accident investigation?

There are a number of advantages to carrying out an accident investigation:

  • It helps you to spot and correct flaws in your existing health and safety practices.
  • In the event of a prosecution, it shows a court that you are serious about health and safety.
  • It provides essential evidence to back up any insurance claims you might have to make or defend.
  • It improves morale by showing your employees that you value their safety.

When it comes to accident investigations, time is of the essence. We understand that putting everything on hold is not always simple when you’re running a business. Help is at hand, though.

We have years of experience in every aspect of workplace safety. Our experts can help you to carry out a thorough and timely investigation. When this is complete, we will work with you to create an action plan based on the findings.

Contact your local H&S Dept for more information.

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