We continue our safety tips with some important things to know about workplace incidents; interviewing techniques when investigating workplace incidents. Thousands of accidents occur in workplaces throughout the United States every day. While workplace safety is improving throughout the country, accidents are inevitable, and we work hard to provide you with the best and most up to date information to instill a long lasting and effective safety culture. Conducting witness interviews at the scene of an accident is a crucial part of the investigatory process, as these accounts provide important information that can help explain what caused the accident.
When investigating an incident at a facility time is extremely important. Workers that have witnessed the event will remember with more clarity directly after the incident, very often forgetting key details as more time passes. After addressing the needs of the injured worker and/or immediate emergency concerns, an accident investigation should be conducted as soon as possible. The first place to start is to interview witnesses. Remember the longer management waits the better chance valuable information will be lost that can be instrumental in preventing a similar accident from occurring. And, its always important to the supervisor knows their responsibilities.
“Although a first look may suggest that ‘employee error’ is a major factor, it is rarely sufficient to stop there. A thorough analysis will generally reveal a number of deeper factors, which permitted or even encouraged an employee’s action. Such factors may include a supervisor’s allowing or pressuring the employee to take shortcuts in the interest of production, inadequate equipment, or a work practice which is difficult for the employee to carry out safely.”
Among the reasons to investigate workplace accidents are to:
- Determine the root cause, in order to prevent similar accidents.
- Fulfill legal requirements.
- Determine the cost of an accident.
- Determine compliance with applicable safety regulations.
- Process workers’ compensation claims.
Very often management makes the mistake of only interviewing employees that have firsthand accounts of the incident. Do not limit your witness pool. Perhaps a worker during a previous shift knows something no one else knows about the equipment or work enviorment. Or possible someone noticed something odd prior to the incident occurring, but dismissed the concern. I recommend that managent asks witnesses to make a list of anyone they saw in the area before the incident occurred.
To obtain accurate information from witnesses there is a varity of interviewing tips that can be utilized. Below are several proven techniques:
- Interview witnesses individually. Employees should be interviewed as soon as possible and in private. If the witness talks or listens to others they may become confused and subconsciously change his/her account.
- Always try to interview where the incident took place. Interviewing employees at the site of the incident can help jog their memory, well as allow them to point how-specifically where –something happened.
- Do not play the blame game. Remember the purpose of the investigation is to identify physical hazards, safety system breakdowns, training needs, and behavioral failures. Explain to employees that you are interested to uncover the facts that lead to the incident so corrective action can be taken to make the work site safer.
- Be a good listener. Do not interrupt the witness so they are comfortable in sharing their story.
- Attain pertinent details. Ask open ended questions addressing the who, what, where, when and why of the incident.
- Take notes Be thorough. If you have their permission, record the interview providing a tape copy of the interview to the witness so if necessary they can clarify any information they gave.
- Be compassionate. Use discretion. Remember if the incident involved a fatality (death) or serious injury the witness could be in shock and be unable to talk about what they saw at that moment. In these cases you can always delay the interview.
- Use the interview as an opportunity to improve. Remember the point of the accident investigation is to prevent a similar accident from occurring. Solicit ideas this way employees are shown by management that their voices matter.
After the interviews, the employer should analyze each witness’ statement at the conclusion of all interviews. Although there may be inconsistencies in the statements, investigators should assemble the given testimony and analyze the information along with data from the accident site.
The goal of all investigations is to prevent accidents from happening again.
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Safety & Health Magazine contributed to this article