There’s a tremendous difference between investigating a workplace accident and finding someone to blame for it. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for average investigators to confuse the two concepts. When something goes wrong, they work hard to identify who they believe to be at fault, and that’s where the accident investigation stops. At McKay Law, we investigate to prove that our client’s injury is a result of workplace negligence.
However, most workplace accidents are not that clear-cut. Yes, an individual worker may potentially bear at least some of the blame, but there are usually extenuating factors. Perhaps the worker wasn’t completely aware of the potential hazards. Maybe the right kind of safety equipment was unavailable. Or it may be that nobody had ever considered that type of accident to be a possibility.
A more productive accident investigation approach goes far beyond placing blame. Instead, it focuses on identifying flaws in the process leading up to the accident and the safety procedures that were supposed to prevent it from happening but didn’t. The ultimate goal is not only to ensure that the accident isn’t repeated; it’s to use what you learn to head off other types of accidents. McKay Law’s principal purpose is to prepare for litigation, especially in accidents that result in severe injuries or fatalities to our clients.
It’s important to properly investigate all accidents, even those that may appear to be inconsequential, or no fault of the employer, for two reasons. First, the lessons learned in investigating even small accidents can be valuable in preventing larger accidents in the future. Second, investigating all accidents sends a message to employers and outside regulators that the company must be held to stringent safety standards seriously and consistently.
The McKay Law professional forensic investigator’s role is to gather and organize information in an effort to uncover the truth behind the accident. Because details aren’t always clearly defined, and because witnesses can offer widely disparate views of the same situation, the forensic investigator should have enough experience and competency to perform the process with complete confidence and cooperation.
Effective Forensic Accident Investigation is Key
The process and paperwork formats for the accident investigation should be in place long before they’re ever needed. While the severity of the accident will play a central role in determining the scope of the investigation, the overall process should be same. Without a defined professional process like McKay Law investigators follow, whoever is assigned to investigate will be forced to develop a process as he or she proceeds.
Additionally, that process might differ from investigation to investigation, so the resulting value of any conclusions may be inconsistent. In any case, a thorough, effective forensic accident investigation should include the following seven points.
1. Respond immediately
The most immediate task is to coordinate the emergency response. In addition to notifying emergency responders and attending to injuries and damage, this also includes notification of all appropriate personnel (and workers’ family members), and securing the site to ensure that a proper accident investigation can take place.
This may mean shutting down any work in progress and blocking access to materials and equipment that may have been involved in the accident. The goal is to prevent tampering with evidence and exposing workers to additional hazards. Finally, management must determine the depth of accident investigation the particular accident warrants.
2. Gather information
Once the accident site has been secured, the investigator’s focus shifts to gathering as much data about the accident as possible. It’s critical that this process begin immediately before witnesses begin to forget details and before regular work compromises any evidence.
The information-gathering process involves questioning witnesses and asking them to complete and sign statements about what they saw. These findings should be documented, even if a worker says that he or she didn’t see the accident because that information will be helpful if stories change down the road. The purpose of questioning is not to determine who deserves any blame; it’s to collect as much information as possible about exactly what took place.
Investigators should also gather any documentation that would be helpful, from equipment logs to photos and diagrams of the accident scene. As the investigator looks over what he or she has been able to collect, it’s important to identify any gaps in the information and attempt to fill those gaps through additional investigation.
3. Release the scene
While it would be ideal to keep the site of the accident secure while the accident investigation proceeds, in most cases, that just isn’t practical. That’s especially true when accidents occur on construction sites, where unnecessary delays can be costly. One the investigator believes that he or she has obtained all of the information that’s available (and has taken steps to preserve any evidence items), they site can be cleared for work to resume, after any necessary remediation.
4. Perform the analysis
At this stage, the investigator has access to all of the available data and is ready to determine what happened and how. The most effective way to analyze is to organize all of the events in two formats. First, they should be listed chronological order, providing a step-by-step recounting of the accident. Then they should also be organized logically, to show how specific aspects related to others. Once those steps have been taken, it becomes easier to determine everything that the investigator knows, along with any unknown aspects, so he or she can determine a probable cause.
5. Develop a report
Documentation is a key part of any safety program, and is particularly important when investigating accidents. A clear, comprehensive report collects all the facts so that everyone is working from the same information and can refer back to it (instead of trusting our imperfect memories). A report will also be helpful if litigation becomes necessary, since that typically takes place many months or even years after the actual accident. In addition to including a summary of what happened and the investigator’s conclusions, the report should include all of the backup documentation, from photos to witness statements and more.
6. Share the findings
Much of the value of an accident investigation rests in its ability to prevent future accidents in addition to establishing damages for our client. That’s why it’s so important to share the report’s findings and any recommendations with everyone. The better everyone understands the conditions and any shortcomings that contributed to the accident, the less likely those situations will be repeated and the more likely our client obtains a fair settlement or judge or jury award of damages. Sharing what happens when something goes wrong also provides powerful motivation to encourage workers to make the right choices in the future.
(Often times, if litigation is pending and there’s a possibility that sharing details may create additional monetary exposure, our accident lawyers review any information before it’s released to ensure it is utilized to our client’s best advantage.)
7. Make changes
Finally, the investigator’s recommendations should be carefully catalogued and make any necessary changes to processes and procedures to ensure that there won’t be a repeat of the accident and provide the McKay Law animations to all parties. Part of making changes is regular follow-up to ensure that the correct steps are being taken to ensure the unfortunate accident is not repeated. That way, the time and energy that have been invested into the accident investigation in support of our client’s injuries and monetary settlement will have been worthwhile.
Mckay Law is eager to boldly fight and protect anyone who may be the victim of an Accident!
With so many moving parts, personal injury cases and other torts can become very complicated. It’s ultra-important to hire a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury firm to advocate for your rights. If you or a loved one has been injured in a personal injury accident, you may be entitled to compensation through a personal injury lawsuit.