Accident prevention Featured

7:00pm EDT November 1, 2005
The reality is that accidents happen. Things go wrong, people make judgment errors and equipment malfunctions at inopportune times. The accident investigation report is integral to accident prevention.

Although no one wishes for accidents, the least you can do is make good use of them when they do happen. After all, they are valuable opportunities to uncover potential problems with the operation, employee training, management direction, material handling or equipment use.

By revealing and eliminating these problems, you eliminate the potential for more accidents, and because accidents equate to production waste, you’re saving yourself money.

Accident causes

At the root of any worthwhile investigation program is the identification of an accident’s cause. Without an identified cause, you can’t come up with solutions and start preventing future accidents. But accidents are usually complex and may have as many as 10 causal events that fall within three levels.

  • Basic — may be something management can control, such as employee training and follow-up training.
  • Indirect — could be physical, such as a missing guard on a press or piece of rotating equipment. A defective or improperly placed scaffold is a physical cause and may tell you there’s a problem with subcontractor control or prejob planning.
  • Direct — usually the result of one or more unsafe acts and/or circumstances. For example, the inability to safely absorb energy or hazardous material can be a direct cause of an accident.

In spite of this complexity, most prevention solutions are based on simply eliminating one or more potential accident causes.

The accident report
So, how do you identify causes and eliminate them? The accident report can tell you what went wrong. Use the following outline when you find yourself faced with investigating an accident. Better yet, create a reusable template that can be called into action each time you need it.

  • Background information

a. Where and when the accident occurred

b. Who and what were involved

c. Operating personnel and other witnesses

  • Account of the accident

d. Sequence of events

e. Extent of damage

f. Accident type

g. Agency or source (of energy or hazardous material)

  • Discussion (analysis of the accident)

h. Basic causes (i.e., management policies, personal or environmental factors)

i. Indirect causes (i.e., unsafe acts and conditions)

j. Direct causes (i.e., energy sources or hazardous materials)

  • Recommendations

k. For example, recommendation to purchase additional protective equipment or implement a follow-up program for safety training

Who should complete investigations?
The manager, supervisor and/or foreman normally investigates accidents, although some companies hire dedicated safety personnel to do this. No matter who completes the investigation, top management should review the reports.

An action plan with clear expectations and duties should be created, with all involved realizing the importance of following it.

When management places enough priority on safety to actually formalize a program, employee morale rises accordingly. However, the program also improves the bottom line, including commercial liability insurance premiums. When you make your workplace safe, you are a better risk in the eyes of insurers.

Contact your local independent insurance agent and ask how your company’s safety program impacts your policy.

Dave White, manager with risk services at Westfield Insurance, can be reached at (330) 887-0354 or In business for more than 157 years, Westfield Insurance provides commercial and personal insurance services to customers in 17 states. Represented by leading independent insurance agencies, the product we offer is peace of mind and our promise of protection is supported by a commitment to service excellence. For more information, visit