Accidents in the workplace are a huge liability. I always say that “Safety Pays,” it doesn’t cost. One of the ways to reduce the impact on your bottom line is finding the root cause of a workplace injury, illness or even a near miss.

Accident or Incident?

OSHA highly recommends calling it an “incident” investigation instead of “accident.” Here’s why.

An “accident” suggests a random event that could not have been prevented. In the dictionary you’ll see it referred to as “an unforeseen event,” “unexpected happening,” and “chance.”

An “incident” is an event that is preventable. It is an “unplanned and unwanted event which disrupts the work process and has the potential of resulting in injury, harm or damage to persons or property.”

Incident Investigations

You should make it your practice to thoroughly investigate all incidents in which a worker was killed, hurt, suffered an illness or even had a “near miss.”

Near misses – or close calls – occur when a worker might have been hurt if the circumstances had been slightly different. Consider this a wake-up call that if not addressed could lead to a situation in which harm or damage can occur.

Benefits of an incident investigation include

Root Cause Investigation documentation
  • Identify hazards in operation
  • Identify shortcomings in safety and health programs
  • Identify and implement corrective actions

Preventing recurrence is the true objective of the incident investigation, searching for a solution to prevent it from happening again.

Find Root Causes, Not Symptoms

Work to identify root causes, don’t place blame and take the easy way out. It is more than just filling out an incident report. Identifying the root cause(s) will help identify systemic changes to prevent future incidents.

Root Causes are things such as:

  • Poor work procedures
  • No follow-up or feedback
  • Lack of training
  • Poor safety management
  • Purchasing unsafe equipment
  • Lack of supervision
  • Rules not enforced
  • Lack of safety leadership
  • Poor safety leadership

When you look for the root cause, you focus on finding the real cause of a problem, not just dealing with the symptoms. A root cause is one that, if corrected, would prevent recurrence of the incident and similar occurrences.