Cracking the Case: Effective Accident Investigations

Despite our best efforts, accidents happen. When they do, most supervisors are prepared to react to the immediate issues at hand – cleaning up a slip hazard or helping an injured worker seek medical assistance. However, getting at the root cause of why an accident happened requires a very different skill set.


After an accident, it is a supervisor’s responsibility to conduct an accident investigation. It is imperative that these investigations be performed by trained employees who can keep an open mind. An effective accident investigation prevents an accident from occurring again, improving staff well-being, and helping districts avoid costly workers’ compensation claims.

Unfortunately, many supervisors are not equipped with the basic tools to conduct these investigations. One important tool for all supervisors to have is root cause accident investigation training.

“Why did this happen?” versus “What happened?”
The most important question to ask at the beginning of any investigation is not what happened, but rather, why it happened. This idea is central to root cause accident investigations.


Root causes are failures of systems, not individuals.  While it can be easy to point the finger at a specific individual’s actions, in truth, system failures are the cause of most workplace accidents. Through root cause analysis, investigators learn how to examine the cause and effect of a chain of events. All contributing factors are considered: the environment, the procedures, the task, the equipment, and staff behavior.

In most cases, you will find that accidents are caused by multiple underlying causes. Each cause should be studied until the root cause is identified. You can identify the root cause using a simple questioning process.

It is not enough to know, for example, that an accident occurred due to an employee not following a procedure. It is critical to find out why the employee did not follow it.

The best way to get forthright and honest answers to these questions is to create an environment where employees feel safe providing answers. Ensure that employees know and trust that the goal of an accident investigation is prevention, not blame.

Training at Your Fingertips
The training you need to perform a basic root cause accident investigation is already available to you through your district, in a 28-minute training you can take on your own computer. Simply visit Vector Solutions and select this training module: Vector Solutions Accident Investigation Training.  A short investment in time can have a long-term impact on staff safety. For more information, contact your PSWCT Risk Consultants.

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