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Keep Employees Safe in 2021: Why You Should Conduct Incident Investigations

By a Verblio Writer

(1584 words)

Did you know more than 12 workers die on the job each day? 

According to OSHA, that’s more than 4,500 deaths per year.

No one expects to get hurt on the job, but the threat of physical harm doesn’t stop many heroes from reporting to work. Just ask anyone serving in law enforcement or the military.

The Trend Towards Workplace Violence

From another perspective, the 4th most common cause of workplace deaths is assaults. There were 453 fatalities in 2018 alone. Some examples of assault are strangulation, stabbing, shooting, sexual assault, bombing, and arson. Quite surprisingly, taxi drivers are more than 20 times as likely to get murdered at work.

In 2005, James N. Madero wrote for the International Risk Management Institute:

On December 9, 1987, a recently fired employee of PSA bypassed the metal detectors and boarded a Pacific Southwest Airlines flight headed for San Francisco. Once the plane was airborne he took out a pistol and killed the flight crew. The plane crashed near San Luis Obispo, killing all 43 people on board.

— International Risk Management Institute

That was 33 years ago. Since then, we’ve seen many mass shootings and other instances of violence played out over and over again in the news media. The growing trend of workplace violence has led many employers around the U.S. to offer more training and drills for active shooters, lockdowns, and bomb threats.

In today’s workplace, we can’t be too vigilant. Employers can’t invest too much on safety or security either. 

The Emergence of COVID-19 

A scary scenario confronts emergency responders and medical workers who risk getting exposed to Coronavirus. By doing their jobs, they could develop severe illness or death from a rapidly developing infection. Recently, Dennis Carroll, former leader of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s infectious disease bureau, estimated only one-third of Coronavirus patients connected to a ventilator would beat the virus. 

Remarkably, COVID-19 exposure isn’t always prevented when workers use personal protective equipment (PPE). While these patients depend on caring professionals to assist them in the ICU, our nation’s brave individuals are putting their lives at risk.

A new CNN report showed the two biggest healthcare organizations in the state of Michigan employed 2,200 workers who were positive for the virus or were displaying related symptoms.

Incident Analysis Saves Lives

Disease prevention is the focus of 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This unprecedented global shutdown gives employers many reasons to improve their safety culture. In that light, we want to share why it’s important for employers to conduct incident investigations. The work of reviewing safety incidents saves lives.

Why Focus on Incident Analysis?

Here’s a million-dollar question. Employers are required by law to provide a safe workplace for all employees. In addition, improving safety practices is better for business. Strengthening your incident investigation process helps everyone feel secure, and ultimately prevents injury and death.  

Workplace Deaths Are More Common in Certain Jobs  

Some occupations are riskier than others. According to a 2019 report from 24/7 Wall Street, the 10 deadliest jobs are:

  1. Fishers and related fishing workers
  2. Loggers
  3. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
  4. Roofers
  5. Waste and recycling collectors
  6. Steel and iron workers
  7. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers
  8. Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers
  9. Front-line supervisors of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers
  10. Electrical line workers

There are 15 more occupations on their list, but, remember, anyone can get hurt on the job. It only takes one mistake or preventable act to claim a life.

The Importance of a Safety Culture

To improve the safety mindset in your organization, it’s important to focus on the details. It’s not just about complying with regulatory guidelines or providing training to all staff. It’s about actively promoting safety everywhere in your company. According to Joe Stevens, founder of Bridge Safety Consultants, here are some benefits of a safety culture:  

  • Higher morale
  • Increased employee motivation and engagement
  • Organizational accountability
  • Credibility
  • Employees feel appreciated
  • Employees get recognized by their peers

The Need for a Swift Response to Safety Incidents

When someone gets hurt or worse, a full-scale investigation should take place swiftly, and all personnel should be held accountable for preserving the details of the incident. Any action that doesn’t appear to be transparent would hurt the organization in the end.

Equipping employees with the proper training and safety protocols helps to prevent accidents, but thorough investigations also decreases the likelihood of similar events occurring in the future. 

What’s in an Incident Investigation Plan?

Typically, employers use a checklist detailing the data points that should be recorded about each incident. Then, the safety officer moves through the formal steps of the company’s internal investigation process. The OSHA website is helpful for determining which kinds of incidents require particular details. You may think something is an incident when it is not, but having the right report will help to protect your organization. In the security and safety sectors, prevention is key, and there is no such thing as casting your net too wide. 

Encourage your company to adopt a broad approach, which will ensure all documentation is obtained for each incident. In addition, your organization shouldn’t avoid conducting investigations because the process might produce evidence of wrongdoing by employees. To make the workplace safer, companies must bring the dirty details out into the open, especially so similar incidents won’t happen again.

Your company’s reputation is on the line when someone gets hurt in the line of duty. Try to build as much transparency as possible into each stage of the investigation process. 

The Benefits of an Incident Investigation Plan

Federal law requires all employers to document what occurred in a safety incident. If someone is injured, your company needs to create a full report of the circumstances. These details could be called for later if there’s an external investigation or, worse, a lawsuit brought by the decedent’s family.

If you use a standardized method of investigation, your organization is more likely to identify problems or gaps in training, protective equipment, staffing levels, mechanical or technological safeguards, security systems, supplies, or other operational aspects.

To maintain a safety culture, everyone must be committed to understanding how a similar situation could be prevented with corrective measures and additional training. Your company doesn’t want to ignore near misses or fail to review past incidents. These records should be maintained on file because personnel will change over time, and similar lapses might occur in the future.

Key Elements of an Incident Investigation Plan

There are no standardized requirements for writing an incident investigation plan, but, across each industry, many organizations include these six steps in their process:   

1. Immediate Action

Company employees trained in environmental health and safety (EHS) or security will immediately respond. They handle interviewing victims and all other employees who might have pertinent information. These coordinators should keep management informed of the investigation status. 

2. Investigation Planning

It’s important to map out the entire process, including who must be interviewed across the organization and where internal sources of electronic information may be maintained. Develop an informal timeline for the investigation, but consider some stages could take longer than you anticipate. 

3. Collecting the Data 

Take a broad approach to ensure your employer doesn’t miss details that will aid in replicating the situation. Be sure to get information from multiple sources, including victims, witnesses, co-workers, security systems (i.e., cameras, alarm systems, access codes), email systems, and vendors/members of the general public who were on the scene. 

4. Analyzing the Data

Review all data obtained from numerous sources. Most investigations reveal the incident was not a stand-alone event. The incident occurred because significant warning signs were missed or ignored. Analyzing the evidence will help to identify the cause. Don’t start the investigation with the mindset that human error explains what happened because the investigation could be skewed.  

5. Taking Corrective Actions

A thorough investigation may reveal at least one cause. For example, there might be outdated operating procedures or the lack of a safety culture in one or more units. New strategies are needed to reduce or eliminate these causes. 

6. Reporting Results

If you’re certain all safety issues have been fully addressed, then this portion will show how the organization remedied the problem. Remember, this report could be made available on the company website and/or presented through a meeting or training program. 

Additional Information

Verifying Results

It looks better for the organization to have the incident investigation report verified by an external entity. This means providing documents for review by an EHS expert.

Lessons Learned

An external reviewer describes what the employer has learned as a result of the investigation. He or she can recommend how the company will work to prevent similar events in the future. 

Don’t Wait to Get Started

Due to COVID-19, 2020 has become the year for revolutionizing business models. Security issues won’t go away because nobody talks about them. When you get some down-time during self-isolation, revisit your company’s safety plans, and improve the incident investigation checklist. If you don’t have one, you need to write one.

After someone gets hurt on the job, the damage is already done. The National Safety Council estimated the average cost of a worker’s death to be $1,190,00 in 2018. Even if your organization has hazard insurance and worker’s compensation benefits for all personnel, an incident could be so severe the company’s financial future is threatened.

Don’t wait for a crisis like COVID-19 to impact your employees and their families. Improving safety protocols and reports does not require starting from scratch. Your security officer can search online for various versions of an incident analysis report like this example posted on saif.com.

Stay safe at work, and always conduct incident investigation reports.

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