We recently talked about “human error” in the workplace.  Regardless of the reason behind an industrial accident, the failure of equipment, people, supplies, or surroundings to behave or react as expected is the cause of most of them.  Thousands of accidents occur throughout the United States every day.  By using information gained by an accident investigation, the why’s and how’s can be determined, and hopefully, prevent them from happening again. 

An industrial accident can cause extensive physical damage to a structure where the accident happened and injuries or death to workers involved in the accident.  This is the point where the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), steps in and conducts an investigation.  An OSHA inspection procedure is conducted, utilizing specialized investigation techniques.   The following information from OSHA explains the reasons for investigating an accident;  if any of the following four events take place:

  1. If there is an employee fatality during the accident;
  2. If there is a critical injury or sickness;
  3. If there is exposure to a serious toxic chemical or disease occurs;
  4. If there are more than three employees that undergo hospitalization from the accident. 

OSHA representatives will come to the site of the accident once receiving word of the event.  They will then do an initial report.  Accident investigations are more complex than other inspections, requiring a greater degree of technical and investigative skill than other types of programmed or non-programmed inspections.  They often require coordination between Federal, state, and local investigative entities.  Compliance personnel and employers are required to interact with the investigating authorities. 

The main goal of the inspection is to identify the causes of an industrial accident, which could lead to citations.  The inspection will not only reveal the causes, but the probability of hazards in surrounding areas, while creating an injury log and calculating the amount of time required for complete cleanup.  OSHA is also required to coordinate with the Bureau of Investigations if there is a fatality at the scene of the accident.  OSHA will contact family members of the employees involved in the accident to provide them with important information related to the accident. 

Another important technique that OSHA uses is interviewing witnesses that were present during the accident.  The representatives of OSHA do not conduct interviews until after they are familiar with the industry in which the accident occurred.  Then they will interview people who saw the event, those who have first-hand knowledge of the accident, and other witnesses who have information about the circumstances that led up to and preceded the accident.  The purpose of these interviews is not fault-finding, but rather fact-finding.  There will also be documentary evidence, photographs and videos, as well as diagrams, sketches and maps that better describe the work-site accident.   Depending on the results of the investigation, OSHA will cite the corporation or individuals involved in the accident, recommend criminal proceedings (if deemed appropriate), and create a detailed investigative report.

American workers and employers want safe and healthful places in which to work.  They want everyone on the job to go home whole and healthy each day.  Determined to make that dream possible, OSHA is committed to assuring, so far as possible, that every working man and woman in the nation has safe and healthful working conditions.  OSHA believes that providing workers with a safe workplace is central to their ability to enjoy health, security, and the opportunity to achieve the American dream.


Source: OSHA, Cal/OSHA


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