Every employer should be prepared to conduct their own on the spot workplace injury investigation. In cases of serious injury, or injuries of a questionable nature, early intervention by the employer is essential. By being proactive, an employer can more readily reduce their liability to exposure by preventing a situation from spiraling out of control rather than engaging in a costly court action.
The main reasons to investigate are:
- This is your only opportunity to conduct your own discovery into the cause or legitimacy of the injury while the incident is fresh.
- Allows you to obtain the witness versions of the incident before details are forgotten, in some instances to prevent possible deception or collusion.
- Provides the best opportunity to understand the underlying cause of the incident and to make an informed management decision.
Understanding How to Conduct an Investigation
Every investigation is really nothing more than a step-by-step logical process. You are best served to have specific individuals designated to perform the investigation.
Your purpose as an investigator will be to determine whether the alleged workplace injury had a casual connection with the worker’s employment. You want to know whether the worker was exposed to a particular danger or possibly some other risk peculiar to the worker’s actions at the time of the alleged injury.
Your designated investigator must have a thorough understanding of applicable state and federal laws. Personnel information and the results of the investigation need to be confidential and relayed to only those people who need to know.
All investigations must be conducted objectively and without making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Training immediate supervisors to provide as much detail as possible is also critical to a successful investigation.
These are some of the essential steps in the investigative process:
1. Preserve the Injury Site
Try to preserve the injury site as long as it is viable or to satisfy legislative requirements. At the very least do whatever is possible to present a detailed and thorough representation of the injury site. If necessary, gather any physical evidence and store separately in a locked area. Use plastic bags to preserve and seal the integrity and prevent contamination of the physical evidence as necessary.
2. Document the Injury Site
Before removing any physical evidence, document the site by taking videos of the accident, or take detailed pictures. Draw a diagram and show the distances and physical locality of each piece of evidence. Take note of serial numbers or any other manufacturing information that relates to the process or physical equipment involved. Service records and maintenance reports should also be secured as they relate to the equipment involved.
3. Perform Statement Taking
Where possible and depending on the severity of the injury your task would be try to get a statement from the worker first and foremost, but not at the expense of medical treatment of course.
Secondly, it is especially vital to take the names of all available witnesses and interview them as soon as practical. Sequester each witness separately if possible to avoid comparing of stories or possible collusion to commit or abet potential fraudulent claims. Stress to each witness that they are not to discuss the incident with other witnesses or even other co-workers.
Written statements should be taken in the witnesses’ own words. Avoid leaving blank spaces and have each witness sign and date the witness statement.
By taking responsibility at the outset to determine the cause of a workplace injury, you can quickly determine the validity of a Workers Compensation or disability claim. If something questionable arises, you will have detailed documentation to address contentious and possibly litigious issues before they go the distance.
Contact our office for more information about this important issue.