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Accident Investigation: Documentation

As a Certified Risk Manager, I’ve learned that regardless of whether you are a claims professional, safety officer, or loss prevention guru we often forget the importance of what I like to call “Lessons from Losses”; in other words,to learn from our losses the necessary lessons that will help avoid similar incidents from happening in the future.  While accident investigation may seem easy on the surface, case outcomes can suffer if you don’t build your investigation atop a foundation of essential techniques and “starting points”. It is my hope that my experience helps guide you on how to investigate an accident regardless of whether it is an Auto, Workers’ Comp, or General Liability exposure.

Timing is everything.

A thorough incident or accident investigation should always take place as soon after the event as possible. Often, we take it upon ourselves to do these investigations and fail to draw from the expertise and/or critical information that others may hold regarding the incident in question. I’m simply saying that you may want to consider involving your local managers and key staff in the investigation process and aim to record all pertinent information as fully and accurately as possible while it is fresh in everyone’s mind.  Start Organized and Stay Organized. The investigation should be conducted in a systematic way and it is often helpful to use a record sheet template that includes prompts and specific questions.

Documenting the Details.

In the case of auto accidents for example, I highly recommend the use of photographs to record the accident scene.  If possible, speak to the person involved in the incident and any witnesses to get their account of the events. Ask them to be detailed in their account and question any aspects that are not explicit. In addition, to taking precise notes of the Who, the What and the When-  You should aim to establish the Why and the How: what hazards were present, and why the hazards were there. But be careful; while it is useful to consider both opinion and fact, it is important to clarify and record which is which.

Accidents usually happen in a blink of an eye and people cannot always recall the initiating factor well.  Always remember to identify hazards that may have led to the event. In the case of an auto accident; document: speed or distracted driving. In the case of a workers’ comp slip and fall accident, take thorough notes of contaminated floor surfaces, obstacles, exposed edges, uneven surfaces or poor visibility.

It is important to understand what factors lead up to the event so that the root cause (the failure from which all other failings grow) can be identified. For example, if the floor was contaminated, why was it contaminated? How did the contamination get there? Is the floor regularly contaminated?

Sometimes we must look back before we can look to move forward.

Establish what has been done historically (if anything) to prevent this type of event and investigate why these measures did not work.

  • Were procedures followed?
  • Have other similar incidents occurred?
  • Were all the causal factors identified in a risk assessment and were the control measures appropriate and sufficient?

Now, it is time to consider all the factors identified in your accident investigation process and assess how likely they are to reoccur. Consider what took place and assess whether there are any additional control measures that would be reasonably practicable to implement to reduce the risk of similar events happening in the future.

Seek Advice. 

Finally, it is the time to seek advice so that you may establish suitable control measures to prevent similar events from occurring again. It is essential to gain the views of our experts to bring about a customized solution that help support best practices and improve your Total Cost of Risk.

Stay Safe!

-The Alpha Claims Risk Management Team


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