What is the Purpose of Incident Investigation?

Nebosh By Andy Taylor

Health and safety personnel get a bit of a rough ride when it comes to reputation. They are often seen as being killjoys and sticklers for the rules, but there is a very good reason for that. In fact, it takes a special sort of person to be able to work in health and safety – least of all, they need to have an absolute dedication to ensuring the safety of everyone around them.

When an incident occurs, therefore, it is only natural that a health and safety minded person would want to thoroughly investigate it. They say, after all, that there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, it’s learning from them which is important.

What is an Incident?

In the workplace, there are often many opportunities for an incident to occur – of course, differently depending on the workplace. It is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that everyone who is working for them is as safe as they can be given the job that they are doing, and, that their customers are safe.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an incident is:

  • A near miss: an event not causing harm, but has the potential to cause injury or ill health
  • An undesired circumstance: a set of conditions or circumstances that have the potential to cause injury or ill health

In these cases, no actual injury was caused, but there was the chance that it could have, as well as there could potentially be damage caused to property.

When an incident occurs, the main role of health and safety personnel is to then investigate the incident, find out what happened, and, ultimately, put the steps in place to reduce the chances of it happening again.

In addition to this, there are a number of other reasons why it is important to investigate an incident at work, including:

  • Incidents often occur as a result of some sort of problem down the chain. By properly investigating you can put this right – maybe by changing procedure or policy.
  • By investigating an incident and making any changes that are needed you are demonstrating your business’s attitude to their responsibilities to their employee or customer’s health and well-being.
  • Detailed information about the incident might be needed to give to insurers if a claim is made.

Investigating an Incident

When an incident occurs, it is firstly, important that some incidents are reported under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations).  For people who are likely to be carrying out incident investigations, it is important to know exactly what is required. By completing qualifications such as NEBOSH’s Introduction to Incident Investigation, you will have all of the skills to be able to carry out a full and accurate investigation.

An incident investigation usually comes in five phases:

  1. Reporting – Depending on the incident, you will either have to report it internally, within the company or to the HSE or local authority for some kinds of incidents.
  2. Gathering Information – Here you must find out exactly what happened – both before and after the incident. You might need to interview employees involved, the management or anyone that you think might have been involved. Taking photos or videos can be very useful for creating an accurate record.

Some aspects that you should look at include:

  • What happened
  • With whom?
  • Was any equipment involved?
  • Were procedures being followed at the time of the incident – do these procedures need changing?
  • Who was supervising?
  • Were there any witnesses?
  • The sequence of events leading up to the incident
  • Was the human reaction to the incident correct?
  1. Analysis – With all of the information at hand, the incident needs to be examined to try to find out exactly why the incident happened, and what can be done to help to prevent it from happening again.
  2. Risk control measures – Once that the root cause of the problem and reason for the incident have been identified, you can then start to think about putting risk control measures in place. This will usually consist of changing the procedures of a job, the provision of PPE, employee training, improved maintenance of equipment, better equipment, or more safety inspections.
  3. Action planning and its implementation – Put your risk control measures into place These might require a certain amount of monitoring and perhaps changing.

When it comes to safety in the workplace, incidents and near misses can be vital in preventing something worse from happening. They are a great way for us to see where problems are. However, it is impossible to learn from these incidents if they’re not properly investigated.

This is why it important that any workplace has people who are trained and can be responsible for the investigation of a workplace incident.


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