Accident Investigation Kits

You’re supervising a jobsite that’s 2 hours away from your offices, and the unthinkable happens: one of your craftspeople has been seriously injured. His coworkers are performing first aid, and you can hear the ambulance’s siren as it approaches. Work has stopped completely as everyone looks on. What do you do next?

It’s hypothetical, but very important. Any injury has serious implications for your district and the employee. Everything that happens from this point forward hinges upon the steps you take in securing the site and performing a preliminary investigation.
Most supervisors have minimal training with responding to emergencies, and instinct doesn’t always provide the right answers. That’s why it’s important to prepare for the possibility of an accident and the realities of the initial investigation by developing an accident investigation kit.

A well-prepared accident investigation kit includes all the materials you need to gather information. You can put all of the items into a small box. Keep one at the jobsite trailer, and make sure that every field crew carries one with them.

Accident investigation checklist: In a crisis, it may be difficult to remember all the steps that must be taken, so the most important item is a step-by-step checklist. This will keep you focused on priority tasks, keep you from missing key details, and make it easier to supervise what can be a very confusing and emotional situation.

Signs and barricade tape: It’s a good idea to include both “caution” and “danger” signs and tape in the kit, so you can immediately mark off areas to protect others on the site and ensure that evidence isn’t inadvertently moved or tampered with. Provide a wide area around the actual incident site so that the investigation can proceed without interference.

Disposable camera: Shoot as many pictures as you can from as many angles and positions as possible. Once you think you’ve taken too many photos, take 100 more. Better too many photos, than not enough.

Measuring devices: Include a set of reference scales that you can place in photographs and a 25′ tape measure will give you a way to record accurate measurements of everything at the scene. Don’t try to eyeball distances. Having accurate measurements will help anyone investigating the incident develop more precise data. For example, in a fall situation, there can be a significant amount of difference between the force of a 20-foot fall and a 30-foot fall.

Gloves: Be sure your kit contains both leather and latex gloves. The leather gloves provide protection from damaged equipment or sharps, while the latex gloves will keep you from coming in contact with blood-borne pathogens when tending to an accident victim or cleaning up afterwards.

Sign-in sheet: It’s important to record the names of all the workers who are typically in the area, and whether or not they were on the site at the time of the incident.

Witness forms and pens: Have at least 20 copies of a witness form and several pens, so that you can capture statements from witnesses while the incident is still fresh in their minds. When questioning witnesses, remember Joe Friday from Dragnet, and let “Just the facts, ma’am” be your guide. You don’t want to try to identify the cause, assign blame, or look for opinions at this point. All you want to do is have each witness record exactly what he or she saw.

Don’t delay this process, even if workers are upset. You want to gather the information quickly. It may be a good idea to say, “You know, I understand that this is rough, but we need to get the basic facts right away. We don’t want to get anyone in trouble. We just want to figure out what happened so that nobody else gets hurt.”

To get the most useful witness statements, ask open-ended questions and encourage them to write down their answers. Because these witness statements have the potential of being discussed in court, do not try to influence the answer. A question such as “What did you see happen?” will prompt a more honest and usable answer than “Do you think Joe did a bad job of attaching his lanyard?”

Digital voice recorder: In the heat of a situation, it may be easier to dictate your notes and take statements from employees electronically, rather than on paper. Having a recorder in the kit gives you that option.

Extra paper and pens: There’s never enough paper at incidents, so it’s a good idea to include a small notebook and a pad of lined paper, along with pens and a permanent marker. The marker can also be used to identify objects or mark areas that you’re photographing.

Other items: A flashlight with batteries is always handy for night incidents or those that take place indoors. It’s also a good idea to include a card with contact information for medical provider or workers’ comp people. That way, you won’t have to scramble to find the numbers.

One last thought: If an incident occurs, protect the scene, particularly if it involves a fatality. Local authorities will want to investigate, and if they see that things have been moved around, they may suspect that you’re trying to hide something. Keeping the site untouched is a sign that you’re willing to cooperate with the investigators and that will benefit you as they perform their work.

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