Safetip #14: Accident Investigation Interview Rules

February 03, 2016
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

In this week’s Safetip, we talk about accident investigations and the importance of establishing and following rules for the interview of witnesses.

Include Interviews With Witnesses in Accident Investigations

When an accident that has resulted in injuries or fatalities happens, witnesses to the accident can still be under great emotional stress in the aftermath. Despite this, every effort should be made to proceed with interviews, whenever possible. Witnesses to an accident can provide valuable information that can help determine the root causes of the accident.

Rules Can Make Things Easier for Everyone

Interviewing a witness to an accident is one of the most difficult tasks for an investigator, because of the emotional stress faced by the witness. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has come up with a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” and other practical advice that can form rules to follow for accident investigation interviews, and that can ease tensions for everyone. The rules include:

  • Interview the witness as soon as possible after the accident.
  • Interview the witness alone, rather than in a group.
  • Ask if it is okay to record the interview.
  • Don’t intimidate the witness.
  • Put the witness, who is probably upset, at ease.
  • Don’t show your own emotions.
  • Emphasize the real reason for the investigation, that it is to determine what happened and why.
  • As much as possible, ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered simply by “yes” or “no”.
  • If possible, ask the witness to re-enact or replay the sequence of events.
  • Avoid leading questions, i.e. questions that prompt or encourage the desired answers.
  • Let the witness talk. Listen.
  • Don’t interrupt or prompt the witness.
  • Confirm that you have the correct statements.
  • Make short notes or ask someone else on the team to take them during the interview.
  • Try to sense any underlying feelings of the witness.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions.
  • Close on a positive note.

By having productive interviews during an accident investigation, valuable information can be obtained. This information can help determine the root causes of an accident, and thus prevent future similar accidents, thereby improving safety.

Visit Enablon Insights again next Wednesday for a brand new Safetip!