Effective Incident Management & Investigation – 4 best practise tips

Incident and events are an inevitable part of operating any business and cover a broad spectrum from ones that threaten to immediately disrupt your business through to ones that might, over time, have a negative impact on business performance.  Typically, they should also include near-misses and it’s important to keep in mind that the proportionality and scale of any investigation should be linked to the level of risks involved.  Naturally enough, the appropriate procedures to be undertaken post-incident vary depending on the nature of the incident (and indeed its severity rating). 
Whilst there are the obvious regulatory obligations imposed on businesses to report and investigate certain work-related injuries, cases of ill health and dangerous occurrences, the benefits to be gained from implementing effective incident investigations across a wider spectrum of incidents and events are significant.  These centre not only on your ability to better manage risk into the future but also include enhanced protection from litigious behaviours and a holistic effect that is proven to help raise employee morale and foster a better culture of safety company-wide.
Here’s our top 4 tips for getting the most from your Incident Management and Investigation processes;
1.)   Establish underlying cause;
It may seem incredibly obvious but the number one determinant of the effectiveness of your incident investigation process is your ability to get the core cause(s) effectively captured.  Intuitively, that makes perfect sense as the corrective actions that get implemented post incident will be largely driven by these identified causes.  Getting it right, however, is harder than you think. 
One of the frequent pitfalls is that investigations tend to identify the immediate direct cause and address that as a matter of urgency.  The difficulty is that in their haste to conclude the investigation, the investigators fail to observe other significant underlying circumstances that may be the ultimate core (or root) cause of the incident.  As a result, the corrective actions that are subsequently implemented are frequently sub-optimal and the risk of a reoccurrence is therefore higher.  Recognising the multi-variable nature of incident causation and being alert to multiple causes is important.
2.)   Create a “common reality”;
Part of conducting a meaningful investigation is the creation of a “common reality”, in other words, an evidence-based, shared understanding of the problem that ensures the corrective actions you implement actually address the proven problem in a definitive way.  For that reason, the ability to capture information quickly, accurately and consistently (including witness statements, samples, photographs etc.) is key.  Indeed, the timeliness with which investigations get completed is a major contributing factor to your chances of the process delivering a positive outcome.
Naturally enough, this approach to investigation is pretty data intensive and so you should look to ensure that if you are deploying software to assist with the management of things, it needs to be able to support what can be a complex data capture requirement. 
3.)   Implement and Track Solutions;
Closed-loop corrective and preventative action tracking is critical to avoid remedies slipping through the cracks.  Whilst, in theory, this can be done in an excel spreadsheet for many SME’s, that approach is simply not practical at an Enterprise level.  Indeed, the ability to automate the approval and review processes for corrective actions is one of the key-wins offered by EHS Software.
You should monitor and review any measures you have put in place to help control risk and prevent accidents and incidents from happening. Findings from your investigations can form the basis of action to prevent the accident or incident from happening again and to improve your overall risk management. This will also point to areas of your risk assessments that need to be reviewed.
An effective investigation requires a methodical, structured approach to information gathering, collation and analysis.
4.)   Share the learnings (Inside & Out!);
The benefits of sharing the learnings from incident investigations amongst corporate sites and divisions are well documented.   
Where incidents (or near-misses) occur on a relatively frequent basis, the identification and implementation of actions designed to reduce the likelihood of a reoccurrence can drive continuous improvement.  Over-time, the associated risks are inevitably reduced.  But that process is less useful for low-frequency, major incidents and it is for that reason companies should look beyond their own incidents to those experienced by other organisations and industries.  How well companies integrate the learnings from related and other relevant industries incidents is a key driver in their ability to manage the risk of major incidents in their own business.