A Brief Guide to Accident Investigations

by Katie Hudman, Esq. SPHR

HR Expertise and Support,  Member Matters

Workplace accidents trigger several responsibilities for HR professionals. Often, one of those is to investigate the accident. Read on for an 8-step framework to help you complete a sound investigation.

  1. Write it down: Pen and paper are the tools of a good investigator. Notes should be made on all facts and statements that may relate to the cause of the accident.
  2. Check the scene: Do your best to reconstruct what actually happened. A sketch of the scene of the accident will help you to conduct result-getting interviews by which you can get at all the facts. Draw in machinery, equipment, and nearby physical objects as well as the places where witnesses were located.
  3. Collect the evidence: Tags should be attached to physical objects that may become useful evidence. All evidence that might get moved or “walk off” such as tools, equipment, etc., should be tagged and put away for safe keeping.
  4. Talk to witnesses: Get each witness to explain what happened in his or her own words. If you discover the testimony of witnesses doesn’t jibe or that there are omissions or evasions, hold further conversations. Try to pin down the facts.
  5. Interview the victim: Timing is important. If injury is minor, the interview should come as soon as you have investigated the scene and checked the damage. If it is serious, use good judgement and select the right time. Too soon afterward, the victim may be confused and inaccurate; too long afterward, he may have forgotten or he may be cautious and evasive. Let the employee tell his story as he wishes. You can evaluate his report on the basis of other statements or more objective physical evidence. Show concern.
  6. Weigh the evidence: Don’t jump to conclusions. Get all the facts documented before you make a decision. Do your best to eliminate any inconsistencies in the testimony of witnesses. Go back and ask further questions if necessary.
  7. Make your report: Your report should be factual. It should be made as soon as possible after the accident occurs to avoid confusion. Base your report on the facts gathered and witnesses’ statements, not on the unverified story of the victim, unsupported opinions, guesswork, or emotion.
  8. Determine how to avoid future similar accidents: Make recommendations to your employees and to your superiors on how such accidents may be prevented in the future. Apply what you have learned with sound judgement in the future.
About the author
Katie Hudman, Esq. SPHR

Katie Hudman is an attorney with Employers Council. For nearly two decades, she has focused her practice on employment law. She has trained company leaders and HR professionals on effective employee discipline and documentation, discrimination, harassment, family and medical leave, overtime pay, drug testing, and disability accommodations. She currently advises employers on employee situations from hiring to termination, prepares education publications, and reviews employee handbooks. She also has experience with internal investigations, severance agreements, and claims filed with/investigations by government agencies. Katie joined Employers Council in 2004. Prior to joining Employers Council, Katie worked as an associate attorney at the Utah law firm Kirton & McConkie. Prior to working at Kirton & McConkie, Katie was a law clerk for the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel and Justice Christine M. Durham of the Utah Supreme Court.