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The Role of Incident Investigations in Construction Safety Management

Safety is always important on every construction project. Unfortunately, accidents and near misses happen on even the safest sites. Construction safety management plans specify when and how these incidents should be investigated, and by whom. Once a root cause has been identified, the team can use the information to determine the best way to mitigate or prevent the incident from happening again.

Incident investigations help raise awareness about safety on the jobsite, provide an opportunity for dialogue with workers, and encourage teamwork.

What is the purpose of an incident investigation?

The main reason to perform an incident investigation is to discover the root cause of the accident or near-miss. The root cause may be inadequate construction safety training, lack of PPE (personal protective equipment), or some other reason. The best way to get to the root cause is to continue to ask the question “why?” when proceeding through the investigation process.

In addition to the root cause, there may be several causal factors that contributed to the incident. These will be evidenced in the answers to the “why” questions. There may be several factors that have contributed to the root cause and knowing what they are will help you develop a plan to mitigate the hazard in the future.

The investigation should also look at the direct and indirect costs of the incident. Direct costs are those related to the incident – medical bills, lost time, etc. Indirect costs are not directly related to the incident but have been influenced by it – rising insurance premiums, production slow-downs, added supervision, etc.

Once the investigation has determined the root cause, causal factors, and cost of an incident, then the company should look at how to implement strategies to control or eliminate future incidents of a similar nature. Safety personnel and management need to work together to develop these strategies and make sure they are adopted by everyone.

How to plan for incident investigations in construction

Every contractor should have a documented incident investigation process that includes detailed instructions on how to perform an investigation. Safety team members and management should work together to develop this plan and make sure everyone is trained in how to properly investigate an accident or near miss.

There are several key items that should be covered in the incident investigation plan:

1. Who conducts and participates in the investigation – An investigation is normally conducted by the injured worker’s immediate supervisor. Safety team members and management can be involved as well. Other participants include the injured worker, witnesses, and the worker’s supervisor if someone else is leading the investigation. Union representatives may also be involved if there is a contractual agreement that says they are to be part of the investigation.

2. What incidents are to be investigated – All incidents that result in a fatality, injury, or damage to property or equipment should be investigated. It’s recommended that all OSHA-recordable, first aid, and near misses also be investigated, as this helps the company get the best information to help predict and prevent future incidents.

3. What information should be collected – The investigation should collect data on the worker’s characteristics and demographics, the nature of the injury, a description of the event, the type of equipment being used, task description, time and shift, level of supervision, causal factors, and corrective actions taken or needing to be taken.
4. How to determine root causes – Know what questions to ask and what to look for to get to the root cause and causal factors of the incident. Continue asking “why” to dig deeper into what was going on. Make sure investigators are trained in how to make these determinations.

5. How to determine corrective actions – Once the investigation has been completed and the cause determined, the team should make recommendations for corrective actions that could prevent this type of incident from happening again. Each corrective action should be assigned to someone with a due date.

6. Track completion of corrective actions – The investigator needs to follow up to make sure corrective actions have been completed by their due date, and the completion has been documented.

How incident investigations affect construction safety management

The occurrence of incidents and the investigative process that follows increase general awareness of safety issues on a project and in a company. This heightened awareness can lead to new opportunities to improve safety on the project and help prevent additional incidents. Having regular discussions about safety topics, such as at weekly toolbox meetings, can help keep safety awareness high.

Investigations also raise specific awareness in certain situations. Workers near where the incident occurred, or doing the same task with the same equipment, will have a heightened interest in the safety of the task. Investigations offer an added opportunity to educate workers about safe operation of equipment or how to complete a task safely.

This is also a good time to hold an open dialogue with workers about their safety questions and concerns. Allowing workers to participate in the identification and mitigation of potential hazards gives them a sense of ownership of those procedures, making them more likely to follow them. It also helps bring the group of workers together as a team.

When incidents or open discussions bring potential hazards to light, it’s a great opportunity to work together to determine the best way to prevent future incidents. Workers are the best resources when it comes to knowing a process or a piece of equipment. Their insights can often enlighten management about better ways to keep them safe.

Near misses and incidents provide an opportunity to change construction safety plans and protocols to address issues on the jobsite. Safety plans should always be changing as the jobsite environment changes. As hazards become apparent, new protocols and procedures will be needed to protect workers and mitigate the hazards.

Conclusion

Safety should always be the top priority on a construction project. While no one wants to see an accident or near miss take place, they provide opportunities to delve deeper into a process or a workflow to see how it can be improved and made safer. Encouraging worker feedback helps build teamwork and let’s workers know that management believes safety is important. Since every worker is responsible for safety on the project, this culture is dependent on their participation.
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