How to Conduct Incident Investigations

How to Conduct Incident Investigations

May 02, 2019

Successful organizations have a few key practices to help them achieve the ultimate goal of zero safety-related employee incidents and zero workers' compensation claims. One of these key practices is conducting Incident Investigations. An Incident Investigation is used to gather the most detailed and accurate first-hand account of an incident with the two goals in mind of root cause identification and meaningful corrective action.

Preparing for an Incident Investigation

Have a protocol in place for when an incident investigation should be conducted and who will be the investigator. By doing so, you will eliminate any confusion at the time of an incident and allow for a smooth transition into the investigation.


An investigation report should be conducted after any safety-related incident, regardless of whether or not there was personal injury or property damage.


Ideally, incident investigations should be completed by an employee's direct supervisor rather than HR. Friedlander Group finds that when the job falls on HR they sometimes get vague information about the incident because the HR staff does not have direct knowledge of the task being performed. The direct supervisor typically has more insight into what was being done and how things went wrong.

Conducting Incident Investigations

The investigator should be as specific and detailed as possible when filling out the report. They should conduct the investigation with the intentions of root cause identification and determining meaningful corrective action.

Root Cause Identification

Root cause identification is a critical part of the investigation. In order to get at the root cause an incident, employers should ask open-ended questions, many of which begin the letter "W". Asking employees what happened, when did it happen, where did it happen, etc. will allow them to offer information that may help identify contributing factors. By identifying the root cause of the incident, employers can decrease the chance of reoccurrences and prevent similar incidents.

Without the "W's": Employee fell in the hallway and injured a knee

With the "W's": Employee fell by the left exit of the east hallway. The employee landed on their right kneecap. The hallway is tile floors."

Try to avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no". By eliminating one-word answers, employees tend to give a more detailed and accurate account of the incident.

Meaningful Corrective Action

The second goal of the investigation report is to identify meaningful corrective action. Friedlander Group recommends the supervisor document things that can be done differently to help reduce similar incidents from happening in the future.

Some examples of corrective action are; a change in training or training material, use of a different piece of equipment, changing a policy or procedure, etc.

The meaningful corrective action should be assigned to a responsible party, monitored, and tracked until its completion.

After The Incident Investigation

Following the completion of an incident investigation employers should communicate the findings with their employees so that the entire workforce is on-board and knows that your organization values safety. Every incident can be used as a teaching tool to keep employees safe, healthy, and productive.