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OSHA Incident vs. Accident | Understanding The Investigations

OSHA Incident vs. Accident Investigations – What’s The Difference?

Workplace injuries happen all the time across many industries. All environments need to have sufficient safety procedures and investigation techniques in place to try and prevent these accidents and incidents from occurring repeatedly.

Workplace accidents are a serious concern. So understanding how to monitor and prevent them is essential for the safety of workers and their families.

Knowing the difference between an incident vs. accident is important when putting prevention measures in place. While both events are unplanned, OSHA safety standards can help you to understand where to find issues in the workplace and inform you on how to prevent them. Thus, investigations are necessary to identify the underlying causes of accidents in the workplace and fix them.

Incident vs. Accident -The Differences Explained

All accidents are incidents, but not all incidents are accidents. This may seem confusing, but understanding the difference between the two involves the outcome of the event and how it managed to occur.

When it comes to an incident vs. accident, OSHA prefers to use the word “incident”. This is because when people say accidents, they are insinuating that the event was harmful and completely unplanned or random. However, this can be dangerous as accidents often don’t occur randomly and workplaces can usually prevent them in the first place.

The common understanding of incident vs. accident is really in the outcome of each event. Incidents are unexpected events that do not necessarily result in an injury or illness. Incidents can result in property damage but are frequently thought of as a “near-miss” experience.

So, the general understanding is that a workplace incident is an unexpected and unwanted event. But, it does not necessarily cause any harm to the employee. These are more common in the workplace.

Workplace accidents, however, are unexpected events that result in personal injury or sickness. Accidents can be fatal. This is why it’s necessary to do everything you can to prevent them. Usually, workplaces can achieve this by following through with the correct safety standards.

OSHA Incident Investigations

The reality of most harmful workplace accidents or incidents is that they could have been prevented with the proper safety procedures. In order to make sure that sufficient safety standards are in place and hazards are identified, it’s necessary to do an incident investigation. All worksite incidents need investigation.

What Is The Purpose Of OSHA Incident Investigations?

The ultimate aim of running OSHA incident investigations is to make the workplace safer. Investigations set out to find the source of the incident. They also help to identify the types of potential hazards and safety threats that are present in the workplace. Doing this eliminates the root of the problem – making the environment much safer for workers.

The purpose of these investigations is not to point fingers or find blame, but rather to express concern for employees. This helps to boost productivity and spirits in the workplace as workers feel safer and more appreciated.

As incidents are unplanned events, undertaking an investigation helps to discover ways that these events might reoccur in the future. It’s then important to put preventative measures into place to ensure that the incident does not happen again.

How Are They Done?

OSHA recommends that employers follow a four-step process when investigating incidents.

Step 1:

The first step is to preserve and document the incident scene. The area where the incident occurred needs to be made safe and secure – this is the first priority. On-site management needs to be notified immediately, and they need to make sure that they put all necessary protocols in place.

Once everyone at the scene of the incident is safe, and the area is secure, documentation needs to begin. It’s important to take photographs and videos at the scene of the incident to be material evidence.

They should include:

  • photos of the equipment involved
  • the kind of PPE being worn
  • weather conditions
  • and any other detail that might have affected the incident.

Step 2:

The next step is to collect information. The employers should start by gathering up any possible witnesses and speaking to the site manager to find out who was present. Getting fresh information from witnesses is a crucial part of the investigation process.

The employer or investigator should also complete an accident investigation form at this stage. To do this, they can use the information from the witnesses and the evidence found on site.

Step 3:

After collecting all the information about the incident, the employer needs to conduct a root cause analysis. Using the “five whys” method, they can continue to ask “why” at each variable in the situation until they can identify a root cause.

Step 4:

Once the investigator finds the root cause of the problem, it’s time to implement corrective actions. The employer needs to put a corrective plan into place to resolve the cause of the issue. They also need to assign responsibility for the corrective actions along with completion dates.

This will help to make the workplace a safer environment by making sure that these corrective measures are implemented.

The final step of the process is to have the supervisor who was on duty sign off on the report. This is necessary so that they can check and confirm the accuracy of the investigation.

OSHA Accident Investigations

While many may say “accidents happen”, others will say that it’s possible to avoid accidents entirely. Although events may seem random, by eliminating the causes you can prevent accidents from occurring again in the future.

What Types Of Accidents Need Investigating?

OSHA strongly recommends that all incidents and accidents that occur in the workplace should be investigated. No matter the scale or severity, finding the cause is a necessary step to making the environment safer.

As mentioned earlier, accidents are more specific to people getting injured or falling sick. Whenever there is harm to an employee, an investigation should certainly follow through.

This means that workplaces should investigate all accidents. If a worker using a piece of equipment gets injured by it, then an investigation will be necessary.

Causes of accidents can be anything from the surrounding environment or another coworker to the weather conditions or anything else that impacts the workplace. Whatever the cause, if an injury to a worker occurs then an investigation must take place.

Even if the worker wasn’t hurt, and the accident was a “near miss”, OSHA still highly recommends running an investigation. If there is a risk for harm or danger, then pursuing an accident investigation will help eliminate the cause.

What Is The Process For Accident Investigations?

Whether it is an accident or an incident, the investigation process follows the same idea. Employers or investigators should use the same four steps for either event to determine the root cause.

It’s important to remember the aim of these investigations. It is to understand why/how the accident happened and to remove the risk from the situation to prevent further accidents.

Gathering plenty of information and evidence around the event is essential. It will help to determine an accurate result. During accident investigations, one needs to follow the mindset of “all accidents can be avoided” in order to find the cause.

The Bottom Line

Many accidents and injuries can occur in the workplace or out in the field. These events can leave some serious repercussions and damage. Therefore, it should always be a priority for any employer to maintain the safest possible working conditions.

Knowing how the investigation process works is a start. But, it’s also helpful to use a focused safety platform like Field1st to help with safety observation, reporting, and more.