5 Essential Steps to a Successful Workplace Investigation

As most companies are aware, it is better to be proactive than reactive. The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently updated its best practices for employers to fall clearly on the side of proactive actions, stating that “traditional approaches are often reactive –that is, problems are addressed only after a worker is injured or becomes sick, a new standard or regulation is published, or an outside inspection finds a problem that must be fixed. These recommended practices recognize that finding and fixing hazards before they cause injury or illness is a far more effective approach.” 

In this vein, ensuring there is a formal and methodical plan in case of an incident in the workplace must be the top priority for all managers and supervisors. It is far better to proactively cover your bases before an incident occurs than to scramble around seeking out proper protocols after something has happened. 1. Formal Plan

The first step in any incident investigation plan is to ensure there is one. An incident investigation plan is a broad term for a plan that covers, step-by-step, what to do if an incident occurs.

Depending on what field you are employed in, it may be beneficial at this point to create subcategories of plans that address specifically the most common incidents and near misses or plans that address a targeted area that management is currently gathering data on. Each more specific plan will follow the same process outlined below, except instead of being a general incident investigation, it will be a targeted one.  2. Data Collection

Perhaps the most important area to cover is adequate data collection. Record-keeping is essential for employers and the documented safety of employees is a high priority in every place of business.

For your incident investigation plan, it may be helpful to separate the data that must be collected and then reported out versus the data that is gathered simply for the sake of the next steps in the plan: analyzing and coming up with corrective actions to ensure this same incident does not play out again. Both types of data are equally useful, but the parameters of what that data contains will depend on what it is being used for. 

As always, objectivity in data collection is key. Data should be collected from a variety of reputable sources, and in this modern age, video and audio footage will always win out over eyewitness statements and other accounts that rely on human recall. Do your best to gather information from all sources, but keep in mind that documentation from a camera or other recording device should take precedent. 3. Data Analysis

Analysis, at this stage in the investigative process, is about tracing the incident back to its origin. What series of events occurred that set the stage for what happened? Pinpoint timing marks and relate all actions back to your timeline. Attention to detail cannot be ignored for the duration of the data analysis phase in your incident investigation. 

Remember that analyzing an incident is not about prescribing blame to any one party. It is about finding the root cause so that another similar or identical incident does not occur again.

Root causes can very rarely be assigned to a single human error but are often a foundational flaw in company practice. It can be difficult to face facts in such cases, but if your incident investigation plan is a sound one, then all you should be left with at this stage are facts. Own them. 4. Corrective Actions

It is imperative that once data analysis has determined the root cause or causes, corrective measures are taken to prevent an incident of this kind from occurring again. Corrective actions look best when presented as a report that details each step of the incident investigation, what led you to determine the cause, and how these specific actions will adequately serve as preventative measures for future incidents. 5. Lessons Learned

While proactive planning is always a must in the workplace, it is of equal importance to step back and reflect once the plan has been utilized. What, if anything, could have run more smoothly? Where were there hiccups? What steps required the most employer output, and are there ways to streamline those efforts in the future? Calm and analytic reflection is merely another way of being proactive and efficient. 

Finally, it is best for you and for your company to make all findings known and investigative reports public. It is an employer’s responsibility to update employees on best practices and you would be wise to include updates to your health and safety program. Looping everyone in to the final results ensures transparency and trust, and these are two unseen but necessary elements that contribute to greater workplace safety in the long run. 

Need more assistance in creating or implementing a sound incident investigation plan? Or perhaps you’re a new manager and have other more pressing concerns? Fear not! Reach out today – we’re happy to help.