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Workplace Accident Investigations

Workplace Accident Investigations

Many workplaces equate a workplace accident investigation by identifying the party to blame for it. The actual goal of a workplace accident investigation is to prevent its re-occurrence.

While your firm may tackle the workers’ compensation process alone, we believe you better serve your company and its employees’ safety by including a private investigation firm in the total process. Your investigation needs to go beyond the party at fault and make prevention the focus of the investigation.

Accident Investigations and Safer Workplaces

The overarching goal of a workplace accident is to identify the cause of the injuries, followed by developing procedures and processes to prevent future injuries. This process starts with proper evidence collection and information gathering.

Certainly, in the US and Canada, workplace accident investigations form an integral part of legal compliance with Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards. They’re also vital for determining the accident’s cost, to process workers’ compensation claims, and to determine the level of compliance with OSHA regulations.

While OSHA’s focus will center on the incident report and the proper medical treatment of injured employees, your investigation should focus beyond that to the causal factors.

Documenting Process

The quickest and easiest way to administer the investigation is to create and document the process before it is needed. Develop the paperwork and the process formats before their need arises. While the scope of an investigation may differ, the overall process remains the same. A process should remain the same from investigation to investigation to keep the value of any conclusions consistent.

The “Who” in the Investigation

Within your organization, the immediate supervisor of the injured worker should conduct the investigation. The risk manager or safe workplace practitioner may assist, along with any investigative or review committee in existence. Senior management personnel, engineering staff, and the firm’s attorneys may also join in an investigation involving a fatality. During the investigation, you should interview:

  • any injured employees,
  • accident witnesses,
  • witnesses to events preceding the accident,
  • the injured employees’ immediate supervisor unless they’re heading the investigation.
  • The injured employee may have an employee representative present during their interview.

The “What” in the Investigation

The “what” in the investigation refers to the information you collect to determine the accident’s cause and those involved. The data you obtain will later enable your analysis to determine a preventative method for future occurrences. During the investigative process, you should collect:

  •  the employee characteristics such as age and gender, department, job title, experience level, job and company tenure, training records and their hiring status,
  •  the injury characteristics of each injured employee including an injury or illness description, severity, and body part(s) affected,
  •  an events sequence and a narrative description from each involved party and each witness,
  •  characteristics of all equipment involved in the accident,
  •  task descriptions featuring specific characteristics of its performed when the accident occurred,
  •  any factors related to time such as the time of day, placement within their shift, etc.
  •  supervision data such as whether they were under direct supervision or not at all,
  •  causal factors such as the contributing workplace conditions,
  •  corrective actions are taken whether immediate, interim, or long-term.

 The “How” of Your Investigation

The “how” refers to the tools with which you investigate the accident. Having a ready to go kit will help you complete a timely investigation. This kit needs to include:

  •  investigation and interview forms,
  •  barricade markers/tape,
  •  padlocks or warning tags,
  •  camera or video recorder,
  •  voice recorder,
  •  measuring tape,
  •  flashlight,
  •  sample containers.

Having this kit ready to go lets you begin interviewing people immediately after the event occurs. You’ll produce better results by building rapport with injured employees and witnesses. Reassure each person interviewed that you want to fact-find. They need to know it is not about determining fault.

Your full investigation will also include a background investigation that reviews the employment and injury records of each injured employee, as well as, any other party whose actions may have contributed to the accident. Pay close attention to reports of any injuries or damage to equipment, machines, buildings, or property.

Interviewing Techniques

Interview each individual separately. Have each person recount their recollection of the account uninterrupted. Record their response and take notes.

After their recount, ask any clarifying questions needed. Repeat the factual information they said to clarify inconsistencies. One of the key questions you will ask is “What do you think could have prevented this?”

Remember that you need to uncover the causal factors to prevent them from ever happening again. Ask “why?” of those you interview.

Six Steps to Better Investigations

Succinctly, you can sum up a properly administered investigation in six steps. These are:

  1. Handle the immediate risk by obtaining immediate medical help for the injured employee(s). Cordon off the incident area to preserve evidence and deny access. Report the accident/incident to OSHA.
  2. Collect evidence as soon as possible after the injured have been removed for medical attention.
  3. Conduct the investigation interviews as soon as possible. You can interview witnesses while the injured receive medical attention. This immediacy provides the most accurate details.
  4. Analyze your findings. Your analysis develops the corrective actions that will stop it from happening again.
  5. Write your findings report. This summarizes the incident and describes the corrective actions applied to prevent its reoccurrence.
  6. Apply corrective actions. Implement new procedures to ensure the prevention of future accidents. This might include machine replacement or repairs or signage.

 Determining Deeper Causality

Once combined and analyzed, the accident photos, videos, interviews, and physical evidence should lead you to the deeper causality of the accident. Pay close attention to potentially contributing environmental conditions such as weather, light, and noise. Also, examine extenuating factors and externalities.

The accident investigation becomes an opportunity for you to discover an improvement for your company’s business processes. The focus should be on identifying flaws in the process that lead to the incident. It should unearth the reason that procedures were not followed or what prevented them from happening.

Your final report should discuss the contributing, direct, and indirect causes of the accident. Reference data that support each cause.

While your ultimate goal is the prevention of future accidents, a secondary goal is preparation for possible litigation. This is a likely outcome if the accident resulted in severe injuries or fatalities.

The lessons learned from each accident can help prevent larger ones in the future. It’s also important to investigate so that employees and regulators see that your company consistently pursues its commitment to a safe workplace.

Key Questions to Ask

During the interviews, you need to focus on questions that will help you answer larger, deeper issues. Your interview focus should apply queries that help you eventually address the following questions.

  •  Was a hazardous condition or defective tool a contributing factor?
  •  Did the worker’s location or equipment location contribute to the accident?
  •  Did the established job procedure or process contribute to the accident?
  •  Did the employee’s ability to perform the job contribute to the accident?
  •  Did any mandates such as speed incentives or production quotas encourage deviation from job procedures that contributed to the accident?
  •  Was lack of personal protective equipment or emergency equipment a contributing factor?
  •  Did management or a manager’s decision contribute to the accident?

The answers you derive from evidentiary analysis help you determine the appropriate prevention methods to pursue. This could mean a need for new procedures or the need for new equipment. This may also indicate the need for employee education and training or for improved education and training. Another potential result is the need for additional safety gear or to develop or improve protection from natural hazards or phenomena. Finally, it could also point to the need for or improvement of systems to account for possible physical, physiological, or psychological limitations of employees.

Your investigation of any workplace accident should include a background investigation, site investigation, interviews, analysis, and a final report. The aftereffect of the investigation should be amended or new procedures and processes. During your investigation, remember that placing blame is not the reason for your investigation – creating a safer workplace that in the future prevents its re-occurrence is.

While your company could tackle the workers’ compensation process alone, we believe you better serve your company and its employees with a safer workplace by including our private investigation firm in the total process. We help you take your investigation beyond finding the party at fault and to developing preventative measures that keep the accident from repeating itself. Commit to a safer workplace by developing a standardized workplace accident investigation procedure and process. The work you do today results in a safer, stronger workplace tomorrow for all of your employees.

Effective Return to Work (RTW) Programs

Companies of all sizes should have return-to-work (RTW) programs in place. When an injured employee makes a seamless transition back to full duty, everybody wins.

Ideally, RTW programs (sometimes called modified duty, light-duty, and transitional duty) are launched with extensive training in how to avoid injury in the first place. The best time to implement a program is before someone strains a back, takes a hard fall, or inhales toxic fumes.

Still, it’s never too late to put safety first.

The Goal OF RTW PROGRAMS

Workers who were hurt or made ill on the job need time to get up to speed. Good programs help employees ease back into full productivity without reinjury.

During recovery, light-duty jobs are modified to accommodate physical limitations.

It’s true that RTW programs require planning, collaboration, and training. They take time to develop. But, their success is a product of trial and error.

However, companies that design effective programs are never sorry that they did. Boosting productivity, morale and the bottom line always pays off.

Benefits for Employers

The biggest perk for employers is a reduction in Workers’ Compensation costs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, payments to injured or sickened workers approached a whopping $40 billion in 2015.

Injured employees who return to work even part-time collect fewer benefits.

Also, Workers’ Compensation premiums are often the largest expense after payroll. Keeping accidents and injuries to a minimum keeps premiums in line.

Effective RTW programs also limit fraudulent and abusive claims. If your boss were genuinely interested in your recovery and accommodated you with light-duty, wouldn’t you be less inclined to scam him?

Along the same lines, private investigation is rarely called for when employees get back to work quickly.

Even a little productivity is better than none, and retaining good workers saves a fortune in hiring and training costs.

For all these reasons, RTW programs make good business sense.

Benefits for Employees

Continuing to earn income — even if wages are temporarily reduced for light-duty — keeps food on the table. There are also physical and psychological benefits.

Private investigation usually exposes injured workers who attempt to cheat the system, but it sometimes reveals just how isolating and depressing a serious injury can be.

Experts agree that returning to work, even on a limited basis, speeds recovery. Purpose, socialization, and a sense of one’s own value have a positive impact on health.

Making RTW Programs Effective

The hardest part is getting started, but employers who drag their feet could soon find themselves out of business.

It’s a collective effort. If you’re in safety, risk management, Workers’ Compensation or law, business owners and executives could use your help.

Here are some factors that distinguish truly effective programs:

Safety is ingrained in the workplace culture

What does that look like?

The best programs are a valued part of the company culture just like teamwork or work-life balance.

Time and financial resources are invested in safety. Training is thorough and unrushed. Safety is the first item on the agenda of every meeting.

Safety is a condition of employment, and there are consequences for violating rules. Workers are comfortable pointing out unsafe conditions or behavior.

Licenses and certifications are current. There are high standards for documenting injuries.

Not surprisingly, injury rates are low or nonexistent.

Everyone is on board

Management is 100% committed, and workers at all levels know that their superiors embrace safety as a core value.

It takes a natural leader with an engaging personality to make that happen.

Hazards are identified and addressed

New companies identify jobs, equipment, or workspaces with high potential for injury. Older companies review their history to pinpoint the most common injuries and find out how they occurred.

The RTW team brainstorms about ways to protect workers in those positions. Certain jobs may be modified. Safer equipment might be installed. Training may be reevaluated.

This is a great time to ask at-risk employees for suggestions.

Thorough job descriptions are published

Existing job descriptions include duties, physical requirements, and functional requirements such as standing or heavy lifting.

Planners have even thought of ways to convert existing jobs to transitional duty.

For instance, a kitchen steward with a back injury shouldn’t lift 50-pound bags of rice, but there are plenty of onions to chop and potatoes to peel. There may even be bigger fish to fry.

Jobs have also been cobbled together for alternate duty. Ideas include oiling machinery, taking inventory, labeling shelves, answering phones, ordering supplies, making copies, and monitoring security video.

These transitional jobs may be rough sketches, so to speak, but they’re down on paper as possibilities anyway. That shows employees that management will do its best to accommodate them.

RTW-minded managers also consider injured workers for vacant positions.

There’s a designated liaison

A compassionate, organized person who likes working with people acts as a liaison between injured workers, managers, and doctors. Someone who hopes to partner with a doctor is ideal. Third-party administrators (TPAs) can be that solution – there to keep in close contact with all parties and keep the program moving forward.

RTW policies are published and distributed

Company policy clearly defines expectations for both managers and workers. Everyone has a copy.

Workers know how and when to notify the company of injury. Contact numbers are provided.

Employees are familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Where workers’ compensation is concerned, they understand both their rights and their accountability.

Effective RTW programs are fair to everyone.

Evaluation metrics are in place

RTW coordinators track results – bigwigs in corner offices dig that stuff.

Executives or small-business owners comply with municipal, state and federal laws

Compliance is a lot more complicated than most suits or entrepreneurs know. The importance of working with an attorney can’t be overstated.

The High Cost of Complacency

The cost of keeping workers safe and active is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of settlements, high turnover rates and lost productivity.

Employers simply can’t afford to be complacent.

Workers’ Compensation Glossary of Acronyms:

Acronyms. SMH.

Having been a private investigator in the Workers’ Compensation (WC) industry for almost 15 years, IMHO, I come across quite a bit of industry jargon – an alphabet soup of acronyms only trumped by the federal government.

If you’re new to the industry, or need a refresher, here’s a list of acronyms YSK:

AOE/COEArising Out Of Employment/In the Course Of Employment
AWWAverage Weekly Wage
BWCBureau of Workers’ Compensation
DOL/DOI/DOA Date of Loss/Date of Injury/Date of Accident
EEEmployee
EMR/MOD RATE Experience Modification Rate/Experience rate used in determining WC premiums
EOREmployer of Record
FROIFirst Report of Injury
ICIndustrial Commission
IMEIndependent Medical Exam
IWInjured Worker
LDLight Duty
LTLost Time
MCOManaged Care Organization
MDOSModified Duty Onsite
Med OnlyMedical Claim Only, No Lost Work Time
MEDCO 14Ohio’s specific Physician’s Report of Workability
MMIMaximum Medical Improvement
NCMNurse Case Manager
PIPrivate Investigator
PORPhysician of Record
PTPhysical Therapy
PTDPermanent Total Disability
RTWReturn To Work
SISelf Insured
SIUSpecial Investigations Unit
STDShort Term Disability
TPAThird Party Administrator
TTDTemporary Total Disability
Voc/Voc RehabVocation Rehabilitation (training to do another job)
WCWorkers’ Compensation