Safetip #82: Criteria for Becoming an Incident Investigator

June 07, 2017
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

This week’s Safetip is about incident investigations and guidance on who should be able to conduct them.

Incident Investigations Can Uncover Underlying Weaknesses

There is more to an incident investigation than simply determining the “who”, “what”, “where”, “why” and “how” on an incident. A successful incident investigation also includes a root cause analysis that aims to uncover fundamental, underlying, system-related reasons why an incident occurred. These reasons can identify serious weaknesses or failures in an occupational safety and health system. Given the importance of incident investigations, it’s better to be sure that certain criteria are met before someone can conduct an investigation.

Who Can Investigate?

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) has a good list of what it takes to be able to conduct an incident investigation. According to CCOHS, potential investigators should ideally be:

  • Experienced in incident causation models.
  • Experienced in investigative techniques.
  • Knowledgeable of any legal or organizational requirements.
  • Knowledgeable in occupational health and safety fundamentals.
  • Knowledgeable in the work processes, procedures, persons, and industrial relations environment for that particular situation.
  • Able to use interview and other person-to-person techniques effectively (such as mediation or conflict resolution).
  • Knowledgeable of requirements for documents, records, and data collection.
  • Able to analyze the data gathered to determine findings and reach recommendations.

CCOHS points out that some jurisdictions also give guidance, such as requiring that the investigation be conducted jointly, with both management and labor represented, or that investigators be knowledgeable about the work processes involved. In addition, a safety committee can also be leveraged for conducting incident investigations.

Should Immediate Supervisors Investigate Incidents?

Finally, CCOHS raises a great point: Should the immediate supervisor be on the investigation team? There are arguments for and against this. Advantages include: 1) The immediate supervisor is likely to know more about the work and persons involved and the current conditions, and 2) the supervisor can usually take immediate remedial action. But one major disadvantage is that there could be an attempt to ignore or hide the supervisor’s failures in the incident. However, this situation can be avoided if the worker representatives and the investigation team members review all incident investigation findings and recommendations thoroughly, CCOHS says.

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