Incident Investigation Steps and Techniques (For Business)

Posted 18.08.23 by:

Incident Investigation Steps and Techniques  like those used by this incident investigator are explained at

Want to streamline your incident investigation steps at work or in the field? Keep reading if you want to improve company efficiency and promote greater safety.

Even the best-laid plans can encounter unforeseen mishaps in the ever-evolving business world. Whether it’s an industrial accident or a minor workplace incident, the aftermath can ripple through an organization, impacting both morale and the bottom line. 

What if you could turn these unfortunate events into invaluable learning opportunities? Enter the realm of effective incident investigations—a meticulous process that not only gets to the heart of ‘why’ but also paves the way for a safer, more secure future. 

In this guide, we won’t merely skim the surface. Instead, we’ll dive deep, unraveling the intricate steps of a thorough investigation, its undeniable importance, and even the modern tools that can amplify its efficiency. 

So, whether you’re an established business leader, a safety enthusiast, or simply someone keen on preventive strategies, prepare for a comprehensive tour into the world of incident investigations, where every mistake holds a lesson waiting to be learned.

Effective Incident Investigation Steps: A Comprehensive Guide

Where to start with incident investigative practices? At the beginning, of course. First and foremost is understanding why a properly administered incident investigation is critical for operations.

Why Incident Investigations Are Essential

There are six main reasons why you need to get incident investigations right. Let’s quickly review why they are so critical for your operations.

Legal Compliance

In many countries, it is the law to complete a report following an accident at work where a team member or member of the general public receives an injury. For example, in Canada, you have to file an injury form within 72 hours of notification of an incident. That form has to get to the CCOHS, or the business could face fines, and even managers could face charges for failing to act.

In the United States, OSHA manages at-work injury reporting, and it is the law to report and keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses. The company’s size and injury severity dictate the required steps, so having a robust incident investigation plan and documentation are crucial to your operation’s compliance.

Recurrence Prevention

One of the most critical factors to a healthy incident investigation is the ability to prevent recurrence. By documenting incidents properly and performing incident investigations to find the root cause, you are proactively working to restrict the potential of a recurring incident.

System Analysis: Discovering Gaps In Risk Control Measures

Risk control can be a challenge. That’s why in-depth incident investigations are critical – they often reveal faults or gaps with existing risk-control measures. This aspect is similar to recurrence prevention, but the concept goes deeper into your operational safety and system integrity. Often when risks prevent themselves, we find those risks were avoidable if the safety and risk controls gap were plugged with adequate measures.

Fulfill Insurance Requirements

Many states and provinces require that your organization maintain worker’s compensation insurance when you hire your first team member. When an accident at work causes an insurance claim, you can be reasonably certain that your insurance rates will increase.

Simply Insurance states that a typical worker’s compensation claim is $41,000. Furthermore, in 2021, claims costs to employers topped $100.2 billion.

Most insurance companies will ask for documentation when a claim is presented. Without proper documentation of the incident (and subsequent investigation), you may find that your rates with your insurance go up more than you can handle.

Team Member Culture

A healthy workplace culture is essential to today’s organizations. In fact, a study published on the National Library of Medicine website found some interesting correlations between the culture of a work environment and how it corresponds to workplace hazards and avoidance. 

The study utilized a structural equation modeling method (SEM) to determine the validity of their hypothesis versus the results and observations. Furthermore, the study found a strong correlation between safety culture in the workplace, psychosocial hazards, and overall safety performance. These results are as we expected and prove the importance of cultivating a strong safety culture in the workplace.

Public Appearance

Improperly managing injuries and incidents at work can make a company look bad – really bad. Take the recent case of Tony Lee Stafford, who passed away two weeks after an incident at work happened, and he was seriously injured. Allegedly, according to WALB reporter Lenah Allen, the authorities stated no call was made to 911 or other authorities when Tony was hit by a falling object at his place of employment. 

According to WALB, workers loaded Tony into the back of a pickup truck and drove him to the hospital rather than call 911 for an ambulance. The local coroner stated that Tony died from complications from his accident at work. And now, because of incident management failures, the family will likely seek legal action against the employer. Not to mention how all this bad press can bring a small Georgia company into the global stage’s scrutinous eye, potentially driving the company to its untimely end.

  • Logistics of an Incident Investigation

There are three main elements to the logistical challenge of managing an accident: timing, location, and team composition and training. Let’s see how each is critical and how you can improve your organization by considering these.

  • Timing

Regarding at-work incidents involving injury, timing is crucial. You must ensure that if an injury occurs, it is managed effectively and immediately. The last thing you want to do is wait. 

According to the National Institute of Health, the US’s median county EMS response time is about 9 minutes, varying between 7 to 11 minutes, depending on where you are. The study focused on the association between EMS response time and motor vehicle crash mortality. However, it makes the same point: the time it takes to respond to an emergency directly affects the likelihood of good outcomes for those injured. And in the case of the study, the response time affects the life of those seriously injured in an accident. I apply whether on the road or at the workplace. An accident is, after, possible anywhere.

  • Location

One of the key factors in dealing with workplace injury is the location. This location element has two sides: one is the facility’s proximity to trauma and emergency centers and services, and the other is how well-equipped the specific facility is for the possible incidents that might occur.

Facility location isn’t always (or seldom is) easy to change. However, how well a facility prepares for potential accidents can significantly affect how those accidents play out. Providing and using the proper and appropriate PPE and safety devices like fire extinguishers and other items make a big difference.

  • Team Composition and Training

Ensuring you have the right PPE and safety equipment is one thing; ensuring your team is well-trained on its use is something else. One of the most critical factors of accident management is to ensure that you’ve got the right team members trained and ready to act in an emergency.

Further to the point of having appropriately trained team members is to ensure that you have a safety plan and designated individuals trained and responsible for key elements such as critical incident response, first-aid training, and health and safety team coordination.

The 6-Step Comprehensive Incident Investigation Process

The 6-Step Comprehensive Incident Investigation Process is explained at

Generally speaking, you can take several standard steps to manage an incident investigation. We’ve covered many of these sorts of processes in our blog guides. Still, you’ll find the most helpful to be our guide to writing an incident report – a vital aspect of the incident investigation process.

Let’s review the six primary steps you must manage for an effective incident investigation process.

Secure the Scene

The first step to managing the incident investigation process is securing the scene. To secure an incident scene, you must do several things:

  1. Ensure you prioritize immediate medical needs. If there are serious injuries, deal with them first. 
  2. Secure hazards. You might need to shut down equipment, set out pylons, caution tape, or other visual barriers. The concept here is to prevent anyone else from getting hurt.
  3. Secure observable items. If you were a police person, this would be preserving the evidence. Once you’ve ensured injuries are looked after and hazards are contained, you need to ensure that security feeds and other such things are preserved for analysis.

Plan the Investigation

If you’re managing an incident investigation, the second phase is to plan the process. Who will be involved? What responsibilities must you pass to others, and what is the event timeline? Furthermore, you’ll want to prepare an investigation kit that might include a root cause analysis or other documentation or tools to help you and your team cover all the angles.

Collect Information

In the third phase, you or the appointed responsible investigators will complete forms like an incident or injury report. They may need to use an injury reporting process checklist to ensure they don’t miss anything vital. 

Furthermore, the team will complete documents like the previously mentioned root cause analysis and gather all evidence or information required to analyze the incident fully. Ensure your team reports observations in an objective and unbiased manner.

 Analyze the Data

Data analysis is critical to an effective incident investigation. In this phase, you review all the documents (digital or otherwise) to ascertain the nature of the accident and how it could be avoided in the future. 

Here’s where a digital documentation platform like 1st Reporting can save you a ton of time by running an automated report to save you potentially hours of document review. Digital documentation platforms offer automated and often near-instant reports that can reveal trends to help you manage your team better and with greater safety.

Implement Corrective Actions

It stands to reason that following your analysis of the accident, its root causes, and other factors, you implement corrective actions. Corrective actions typically include altering processes and sometimes even require equipment or facility upgrades or alternations.

Remember, even if implementing corrective action seems costly, consider the cost of inaction and accidents. With an appropriate comparison, you will soon see that the cost of doing nothing is typically more severe than prevention.

Documentation and Sharing

The final phase of your incident investigation is to document and share findings with appropriate stakeholders. In a former job where I managed multiple teams of service personnel, I found that holding a safety meeting following an accident where my team had a chance to learn what happened and share their observations was not only a great way to get my team involved in site safety.

However, it was also quite revealing. When you sit in an office, you don’t always understand the full picture presented to field technicians. Sharing and discussing incidents is crucial to a safe and preventive work culture.

The Future of Incident Investigations: Leveraging Technology

A team discusses leveraging technology for field reporting operations. Learn more about field reporting at

Incident management is nothing new and will not go anywhere anytime soon. As long as people work, there will be a need for appropriate incident and accident management. However, the way we administer these scenarios has changed quite a bit and is changing as you read this article. The change? Technology.

Many companies, organizations, and even municipalities are switching from the 3000+-year-old invention of paper to the world of digital documentation. 

Going paper-free is a great way to ensure you never fight with poor penmanship, skip fields on essential documents, or lack printer ink again. Furthermore, it’s a much more efficient and effective way of recording incident observation because it includes GPS location service and multimedia.

There are so many features to digital documentation platforms that it seems almost silly that we still use paper in many scenarios. For example, with a custom template builder like the one in the 1st Reporting application, you can make dynamic templates and link them together. Imagine – following an incident or accident from occurrence to corrective action with multiple stages all linked together for easy reference and retrieval.

Use a cloud-based technology for your reporting, and you’ll find that collaboration is near instant. Furthermore, setting up features like instant notification is easy with today’s technology. 

Final Thoughts

Today’s fast-paced business economy means no organization can overlook the importance of effective incident investigations. As we’ve explored, the repercussions of a mishandled incident can range from legal challenges to compromised public image and heightened operational costs. But beyond these tangible consequences lies an intangible yet profound impact on workplace culture, morale, and overall organizational resilience.

Embracing a thorough and systematic approach to incident investigation is not just about compliance or averting legal hurdles; it’s about safeguarding the very heart of an organization – its people. It’s about fostering a culture that values safety, learning from mistakes, and striving for excellence. Integrating technology into these processes has made incident investigations faster and more accurate, and actionable.

As you reflect on this comprehensive guide, remember that incidents are unfortunate and present an unmatched opportunity to strengthen and evolve. We encourage every organization, irrespective of its scale or industry, to proactively enhance its incident investigation protocols. By doing so, you mitigate risks and signal your workforce that their safety and well-being are paramount.

In closing, ask yourself this: Are you prepared to turn challenges into champions for change? If not, now is the time to act. Equip your organization with the tools, training, and tenacity to ensure every incident is a stepping stone to a safer, brighter future.

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