Achieve a culture of safety with accident investigations

Achieve a culture of safety with accident investigations

This is part of our series designed for busy business and HR leaders responsible for managing safety programs.

We’re talking about how to strengthen your safety program, where the first step is keeping good records. So you have compiled all of your incident reports and posted your OSHA 300A form. Whew, glad that is done! But if you file it away until next year without looking more closely at the data, you are missing a big opportunity.

Take time to analyze.

For each injury that was bad enough for the employee to miss their next scheduled shift, OSHA requires you do an accident investigation. But it is work taking a closer look at all your incidents, including near-misses.

Accident investigations should identify root causes, so you can reduce hazards and prevent additional incidents. But do not overlook perhaps the biggest benefit of all: achieving a culture of safety. By talking to involved employees, listening to their concerns, and addressing those concerns in a meaningful way you are creating an engaged environment where safety issues can be addressed before injuries occur. This is a culture where people matter – where employees are valued and respected. I encourage you to Ask the question, “How can we make the safer choice, the more convenient choice?”

Find the root cause.

In my almost ten-year career as an OSHA compliance officer, I saw so many terrible internal accident investigations – ones that ridiculed employees and gave nothing failed to address the real issues. Just terrible! One example that stands out is after an employee had fallen down several steps, the only findings were to, “Stop hiring stupid employees.”

Clearly, this statement was not helpful. It stops all analysis into what could have been done, and is completely disrespectful and unacceptable. I believe that people do not want to get hurt on the job, and that the vast majority of accidents are caused by hazards that can be controlled—once the root cause is identified.

As part of an OSHA audit, I took a fresh look at this situation.  After interviewing the employee and the employee’s supervisor, I had several suggestions for decreasing the likelihood of another employee falling. These recommendations address the root causes of the incident:

1.    The employee was required to carry parts weighing 22 lbs. while using the staircase. This prevented having a hand available to use the handrail.  Recommendation: Use a cart and the elevator to move the parts.

2.    The employers’ safety shoe program paid for safety shoes every 3 years. The employee’s shoes had worn treads and were due to be replaced six months prior to the accident.  Recommendation: Simplify the safety shoe purchasing process.

3.    The stairwell had two lights with burned out bulbs, leaving one section of stairs darker than the recommended levels.  Recommendation: Maintain lighting.

4.    It was common for coffee and soda spills to be found on the stairs and in many other locations near the breakroom.  Recommendation: Encourage the use of covered beverage containers to prevent spills and slip hazards.

As you can see from this example, you need to look at incidents from all angles to find a way to prevent them in the future—and not just chalk it up to the fault of an inattentive employee. And, as you can also see – solutions need not be expensive or onerous.

Follow up.

If you truly want to shift your culture toward safety, it’s worth learning how to conduct effective investigations. For more information on accident investigation, OR-OSHA has several resources including a free online class, safety committee training materials, and access to the rules.  And, of course, we stand ready to help you create an effective safety program that serves employees and the organization.

Now, about that OSHA 300A form: Before you file away your 2018 incident data, check back here next month, when we will be looking at how to find trends or patterns that you can use to prevent future incidents, helping to keep your employees safe.

Yours in success,


Rebecca Wale

Chief Safety Consultant

Rebecca is the Chief Safety Consultant of Integrated Success HR Consulting & Coaching, LLC. She has extensive credentials and experience as an Environmental Health and Safety/Risk Management professional and leader across a variety of industries.  Her background in for-profit, non-profit and governmental organizations, and as a former OSHA compliance officer, means Rebecca knows how to design cost-effective programs that really work. Rebecca’s passion is translating her vast experience into straight-forward programs for busy leaders.