The Basics of Incident Investigations

No one wants to hear that there has been an incident at work, but when they do happen, an incident investigation is necessary.  Incident investigations serve to find the root cause of the incident to prevent the same issue from reoccurring.  What should be included in an incident investigation?  Here, I cover the basics.


It’s important to report the incident in a timely manner.  The initial report goes to company management, subcontractor providers, customers, and OSHA.  Report fatalities to OSHA within 8 hours.  Report inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye to OSHA within 24 hours.


Employees designated to be on an incident investigation team are trained so they are qualified and competent to conduct the investigation.  These employees know the various investigation techniques to be used.  They also receive training on their specific roles and responsibilities for incident response and investigation.

Evidence Collection

The evidence collected depends on the type and severity of the incident.  Common evidence includes a list of the people, equipment, and materials involved.  Make notes concerning the physical factors involved, such as fatigue, age, and medical conditions.  Record the environmental factors at the time, such as weather, lighting, temperature, noise, ventilation, etc.  This information comes from interviews, document reviews, maintenance schedules, training records, etc.  Also, make a special effort to preserve the evidence using cones or guards and take plenty of photos and notes.

Corrective Action

Establish corrective actions based on the findings of the investigation.  It is key to resolve the findings and recommendations in a timely manner.  There are immediate corrective actions and long-term corrective actions.  Once the root cause and corrective actions are established, ensure employees, contractors, and customers are made aware.  This helps to prevent the same incident from occurring later.

Written Report

The final written report includes the description of the incident, any evidence collected during the investigation, an explanation of the causes of the incident, and corrective actions.  It is important to produce a thorough and concise report for future reference.  Include any video recordings, photos, or sketches in the final report.

Lessons Learned

Finally, review and communicate any lessons learned from the investigation process.  Put any changes to processes in place to prevent similar events from occurring.  Senior management has a key role here in preventing recurrence by supporting any corrective actions.

Without a proper investigation, the same incident will likely continue to occur.  Incident investigations prevent further injury to employees, put an end to the expense of investigations, and reduce the likelihood of legal action.

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Amber Hebert

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