No matter what type of business you operate, all employers should be ready, willing, and able to conduct their own injury investigation immediately following an incident. Early intervention on your part will be essential in cases where there’s been a serious injury or an injury of questionable nature. Such a proactive approach will allow you to keep the incident from spiraling out of control and reduce your liability exposure. After all, the last thing any employer wants to do is engage in costly court actions, some of which could spell the demise of the business. The following are the three main reasons you must immediately investigate an incident:
- This time will be your only opportunity to look into the legitimacy and cause of the injury while it’s fresh, not possibly tainted by elapsed time.
- It will be the best opportunity to make an informed managerial decision based on the most thorough understanding of the underlying cause of the incident.
- It will be the best chance to obtain witness accounts of the incident. Time elapsing could allow witnesses to forget vital details, collude with others, or be intimidated into a false statement.
Now that it’s clear why you need to investigate, you’ll want to understand how to do so. An investigation is basically an objective, logical process that’s conducted step-by-step. It’s vital that assumptions aren’t made and that conclusions aren’t jumped to without completing the process.
It’s best to designate specific individuals to carry out investigations. Of course, this designated investigator should understand both federal and state laws thoroughly. They should also understand the importance of keeping the results and details of the investigation confidential. It will also be of vital importance to the investigation process that your immediate supervisors have been trained to provide as much detail as they can about incidents.
The investigator will determine if a worker’s alleged workplace injury had any casual connection with their employment. For example, it needs to be determined whether or not the worker was exposed to a particular risk or danger at the time of the incident. Keep these three essential steps in mind as you begin any investigative process:
- Protect the incident site. Make every effort to preserve the incident site until either it’s no longer viable, legislative requirements have been met, or the investigation has been completed. If this isn’t possible, then at least do what you can to make a thoroughly detailed representation of the site. You might use plastic containers or bags to help preserve the integrity of the evidence collected and prevent it from becoming contaminated. You might find it necessary to gather, remove, and store physical evidence in an alternative, secure area.
- Document the incident site. If possible, don’t remove any physical evidence from the incident site until you’ve documented it with video, pictures, and drawings. The distance and physical location of evidence can be shown with a diagram. If any equipment was involved in the incident, then you should document the machine’s serial number, manufacturing information, and maintenance and service records.
- Take witness statements. Of course, you should in no way jeopardize or interfere with an injured worker receiving medical treatment. However, if the severity of the injury allows, you should obtain an immediate statement from the injured worker. Then, you should make a list of all potential witnesses and interview them as soon as possible. If feasible, you can sequester the witnesses and interview them separately to help avoid any possible collaboration, collusion, or intimidation from taking place. Make it perfectly clear to all the witnesses that they aren’t to have discussions about the incident with other co-witnesses or co-workers. Make sure that the written statements from the witnesses are in their own words, even if grammatically incorrect, and doesn’t contain any blank spaces. Ask the witnesses to sign and date their final statement.
It will be significantly easier for you to determine the validity of disability and compensation claims when you’ve used the above investigative process to determine the cause of the injury. You’ll have the detailed documentation to address any questionable issues and possibly even thwart unfounded litigation claims.