Accident Investigations

The term “accident” can be defined as an unplanned event that interrupts the completion of an activity, and that may (or may not) include injury or property damage.

An incident usually refers to an unexpected event that did not cause injury or damage this time but had the potential. “Near miss” or “dangerous occurrence” are also terms for an event that could have caused harm but did not.

Please note: The term incident is used in some situations and jurisdictions to cover both an “accident” and “incident”. It is argued that the word “accident” implies that the event was related to fate or chance. When the root cause is determined, it is usually found that many events were predictable and could have been prevented if the right actions were taken — making the event not one of fate or chance (thus, the word incident is used). For simplicity, we will use the term accident to mean all of the above events.

The information that follows is intended to be a general guide for supervisors or joint occupational health and safety committee members. When accidents are investigated, the emphasis should be concentrated on finding the root cause of the accident rather than the investigation procedure itself so you can prevent it from happening again. The purpose is to find facts that can lead to actions, not to find fault. Always look for deeper causes. Do not simply record the steps of the event.

Reasons to investigate a workplace accident include:

  • most importantly, to find out the cause of accidents and to prevent similar accidents in the future
  • to fulfill any legal requirements
  • to determine the cost of an accident
  • to determine compliance with applicable safety regulations
  • to process workers’ compensation claims

Incidents that involve no injury or property damage should still be investigated to determine the hazards that should be corrected. The same principles apply to a quick inquiry of a minor incident and to the more formal investigation of a serious event.