Workplace Accident Prevention

According to the National Safety Council, more than 4,300 workers were killed on the job in 2008, and 3.2 million more suffered disabling injuries.

Investigating the causes of workplace accidents and taking corrective measures to prevent repeat occurrences are important risk management and safety strategies for companies of all sizes.

An effective accident investigation should not be focused on assigning blame for an incident, but rather on determining the root cause of an accident and any safety shortcomings that need to be addressed.

Understanding the root cause of an accident is different than identifying the often-obvious immediate cause. Say a customer slips on a wet floor. The wet floor may be the immediate cause, but figuring out why the floor was wet (or why warning cones weren’t used) will uncover the root cause of the accident.

It’s important for companies to investigate not only accidents that result in worker injuries, property damage or lost production, but also near-misses that reveal unsafe conditions.

Standardizing how your company investigates accidents will help you understand what happened during the incident and why. In addition, it helps your company demonstrate its commitment to safety, which some workers may question following an accident.

An effective accident investigation involves gathering facts, analyzing information, taking corrective measures, documenting your findings and following up.

Gather Information

As soon as possible, it is important to secure the accident scene to record, with photos or video, the results of the incident as well as any potential causes. Most accidents combine several factors, so it’s important to step back and think about the likely sequence of events that preceded the incident.

It’s also important to interview the accident victim, any witnesses and other employees who commonly work at or near the accident site. Talking to people individually will provide more candid responses and potentially better insights. With the benefit of hindsight, workers will likely point to several potential causes.

Analyze Your Findings

After studying the incident, you should try to identify any underlying causes. Tracing the accident backwards may uncover a lack of training or safety equipment, improper maintenance or housekeeping, or other contributing factors.

Go beyond any obvious symptoms, such as careless equipment operation, to identify inadequate policies or procedures that may have contributed to the incident. Inadequate equipment maintenance, for example, can compound the effects of careless operation.

Take Corrective Measures

An investigation hopefully will identify a number of needed improvements that can help prevent repeat occurrences of the accident. Guards may have to be replaced on equipment, for instance, or additional training may be required.

Companies with more than one facility should also consider whether conditions that contributed to an accident are also present at other locations or departments.

Document the Incident

Preparing a written record of what happened, the root causes and the recommended corrective measure are not only helpful in preventing future incidents, they may be required by federal or state workplace safety regulators. In addition, trend data about workplace accidents can indicate unsafe conditions or processes that should be addressed before future accidents take place.

Follow Up

An effective follow-up program will ensure recommended actions have been taken, and that hazardous conditions or inadequate training have been corrected.

Following these measures while investigating accidents will help companies improve workplace safety and reduce the economic costs associated with workplace accidents.

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