The ‘Silver Lining’ to Workplace Accidents

Today our Safety Training Tips editor looks at how you can use accident investigations to get something positive out of accidents and near misses.

Could there be a silver lining? We generally think of job accidents as negative aspects of production. And, of course, they are. They’re certainly something you want to prevent. But if it can be said that there is such a thing as an upside to workplace accidents and near misses, it’s that these incidents can show you the gaps in your safety programs, procedures, and practices. That helps you see what you need to do to correct safety problems and improve safety performance. And one of the best ways to understand accidents, correct safety problems, and prevent tomorrow’s accidents is to thoroughly investigate the incidents that occur today. In a successful accident investigation, you assemble evidence, interview witnesses and those involved, and then piece all this information together to try to understand why the accident happened and what you need to do to make sure something similar doesn’t happen again.

Employees play an important role in investigations. Here’s what to tell your employees about how they can help in an accident investigation:

  • Report all accidents and near misses right away. Even if nobody was hurt, your supervisor needs to know what happened so steps can be taken to prevent future problems.

  • If you witness an accident, try to remember what happened. Write down what you saw as soon after the accident as possible—what, where, when, who, and why.

  • Don’t disturb the scene of the accident. You could destroy valuable evidence that could help investigators figure out exactly how the accident happened.

  • Provide any information you have about an accident. Come forward right away and tell what you know. Your cooperation is essential to the success of the investigation.

  • Lend your expertise to the investigation. If you have special knowledge about the equipment or procedures involved, the circumstances surrounding the accident, etc., tell what you know and offer your suggestions.

  • Encourage co-workers to cooperate in accident investigations. Remind them that the purpose of an accident investigation is to prevent future accidents—accidents that could involve any one of them.

  • Join with co-workers to implement any corrective measures that come out of an investigation. Be sure to follow any new safety rules that result from an accident investigation. 

Accident reports also play a crucial role in preventing future incidents. Accident reports explain causes and recommend solutions. They should include at least the following information:

  • Name of the employee(s) involved

  • Names of any injured employees

  • Date of the accident

  • Time of the accident

  • Location of the accident

  • Names of witnesses

  • Work the employees involved were engaged in at the time of the accident

  • Nature and extent of any injuries

  • Name and address of hospital or doctor treating victims

  • Description of the incident

  • Unsafe condition(s) or unsafe act(s) that caused the accident

  • Actions taken to prevent similar accidents

  • Recommendations for additional action

  • Name of supervisor(s) or manager(s) who investigated the accident

  • Name of supervisor or manager responsible for writing the report

  • Date report written and submitted 

The best reports are written in plain, direct language that leaves no doubt as to meaning. Descriptions or explanations are brief and to the point, but contain sufficient detail to make the necessary point clearly.

Why It Matters…

  • There are about 4 million accidents involving injuries and work-related illness every year.

  • Approximately one quarter of those incidents involve lost workdays.

  • Between 5,000 and 6,000 American workers are killed on the job every year.

  • The only way to prevent the injuries, illness, and fatalities is to understand why these accidents happen.

  • Accident investigations identify causes of workplace accidents so that safety and health problems can be corrected.

  • Employees need to understand what to expect from an investigation so they can contribute to the process.