While an incident (accident) investigation might seem like a reactive tool — since an undesired event has to take place, or nearly take place, to spur an investigation — it’s not necessarily the case. A well-built investigation process can get to the root cause(s) of an event and prevent similar events from occurring again.

Understanding the impact investigations can have on preventing further missteps, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has outlined a four-step process to help employers conduct workplace incident (accident) investigations in a guide entitled, “Incident (Accident) Investigations: A Guide for Employers.”

4-Steps to Manage Incident (Accident) Investigations

“Incident (Accident) Investigations: A Guide for Employers” simplifies how to approach incident or accident investigations — providing helpful information on how to:

  1. Preserve and document the scene
  2. Collect Data
  3. Determine root causes
  4. Implement corrective actions

Despite the guide’s helpful step-by-step directions, employers might still feel overwhelmed at the thought of instituting all the correlating processes and paperwork that will ultimately improve their investigative techniques. 

Here’s how risk management technology can further streamline investigations by automating OSHA’s four-step process from end-to-end:

1. Preserve and Document the Scene

OSHA recommends preserving the scene of an incident “to prevent material evidence from being removed,” as well as video recording, photographing and sketching certain incident elements when pertinent. It also recommends documenting a great amount of detail to capture the essence of what occurred. And who could argue with these best practices?

However, anyone familiar with incident (accident scenes knows this is easier said than done. In the heat of the moment — and amid the chaos that often ensues with such situations — it can be difficult to actually address the incident or care for an injured worker, while also keeping all the parts and pieces of an investigation moving so nothing gets overlooked.

Risk management technology can help: It automates the entire incident management process, giving field users an automatic framework for how to respond to an incident and guidance around the data that needs to be collected — all while they are on site.

With a mobile device and just a few clicks, field users can login to a portal to both access and record relevant information — whether it’s related to handling or documenting a near miss, incident or accident. Electronic forms with already established data fields give field users an idea of the next steps they should take or the data they should collect. A guided, “wizard-style” collection process incorporates dynamic question logic, showing or hiding further questions based on previous responses.

The right risk management technology will also make it easy to jump around to different portions of the electronic collection process, and then validate complete and incomplete sections. In addition, field users can also upload any incident-related photos, videos or drawings alongside the standard incident data they collect — helping to keep all components organized so nothing will slip through the cracks.

2. Data Collection

Automation can make your safety program safer. Such functionality makes preserving and documenting the scene of an incident or accident seamless: All data collection and documentation can take place on-site — without having to shuffle through paperwork; wing investigative due diligence; or re-capture incident data once field users return to their desks or once the safety team gets ahold of information that was collected manually.

Managing incidents and accidents in the moment — all while trying to preserve the details of what occurred — is no easy task. Nevertheless, it’s important if you want to get to the bottom of the problem and prevent a similar scenario from occurring again.

With risk management technology you can gather the information you need in a streamlined and flexible collection process. The resulting time savings and improved accuracy means more time to actually institute corrective actions and get to the ever-important preventative piece of safety risk management.

3. Root Cause Analysis

If you want to strengthen your organization’s safety culture, then it’s important to uncover the origins of any incidents or accidents that do occur — engaging in an investigative technique called root cause analysis.

Doing so allows you to make swift corrective actions and prevent recurrences, which is why root cause analysis comes so highly recommended by health and safety organizations.

Of course, before you can get to the root cause, you must have an accurate account of what happened.

Risk management technology can help you to conduct a “Five Whys” analysis — a technique whereby you repeatedly ask the question, “Why?” (at least five times, as an average), in order to get to the root cause. The system will automatically trigger “why” questions to help facilitate a productive investigation.

5 Whys Analysis

But beyond the information collection piece, risk management technology also simplifies how you analyze that data — making it easier to interpret, and therefore, easier to uncover the root cause.

Data Consolidation and Visual Analytics: Root Cause Analysis Made Easy

First and foremost, risk management technology connects and normalizes disparate data sources into a single, understandable source of truth that can be shared with others in the spirit of collaboration.

This means all data is collected, formatted, stored and shared in one place — not only giving users full access to relevant information, but giving them access in a single view as opposed to switching between different files and data sources with unique formats.

Further, the right risk management technology will create meaningful visuals like interactive graphs, charts, timelines and cause and effect/fishbone diagrams from the data — making it easy to follow the incident’s narrative, as well as analyze causal and contributory factors to better prioritize and target corrective actions.

Check out this visual timeline created from a hypothetical healthcare incident:

Root Cause Analysis

Ultimately, using risk management technology in these ways can help you to spend less time and effort conducting root cause analyses and more time to focus on improving safety.

Root cause analyses are a critical safety improvement and risk management tool. But all too often, they aren’t conducted frequently enough or fast enough after the discovery and reporting of an event.

4. Take Corrective Actions

All the incident (accident) investigation data and analysis in the world won’t make a difference if you don’t follow up with corrective actions that actually rectify the root causes of events.

Incidents or accidents that aren’t followed up with corrective actions are just more accidents waiting to happen — perhaps with even more costly ramifications than the first go around. That’s because an accident that happens more than once isn’t just an accident: It’s a systemic problem that can affect an organization’s reputation, morale and bottom line.

Still, all too often, corrective actions get held up by indecisiveness, bureaucracy and miscommunications. Organizations either don’t have the right data and analysis tools to be confident in their corrective action decision-making, or they lack the proper internal frameworks for making decisions and taking action — or both.

How to Make Corrective Actions Automatic

Such challenges are minimized with risk management technology. Not only does it facilitate seamless incident data collection and analysis to improve decision making, risk management technology automates the corrective action process — offering the much needed framework for moving initiatives forward and holding individuals accountable.

Some of the more specific ways that risk management technology can help streamline the corrective action process include:

  • Corrective Action Templates: Save time by using templated electronic documents to initiate the corrective action process, rather than creating a unique form for each new event.
  • Automated Follow-up: Electronically assign corrective action tasks to relevant stakeholders. Tasks can be checked off as complete, or escalation triggers can be automated when delays occur. Activity statuses are visible to authorized users.
  • Workflow Prompts and Captured Feedback: The completion of tasks can also trigger automated workflows, prompting other stakeholders to complete tasks and offer feedback related to corrective actions, via an established cadence of activity.

Failure to take appropriate action of issues can be damaging to the organization: Morale can falter and penalties can be large. It is vital all relevant data is recorded, status updates are reported, and automated escalation processes ensure corrective actions are completed in a timely manner.

Interested in learning how to automate the corrective action process? Click here to  find out more, or check out our white paper on Analyzing the Unintended Consequences of Updates to the OSHA Post-Accident Drug Testing Rule.