Accident Investigation Procedures

by: Cassie Pfeifer, The Sandner Group - Claims Management

 Risks often present themselves in ways that are hard to spot, making it difficult to prevent an accident from happening. Damage to a building from a lightning strike, for instance, can be very hard – if not impossible – to prevent since one cannot predict where a lightning strike will occur. However, it is the school district’s job to work to prevent accidents from happening to the best of its ability and to also thoroughly investigate accidents when they do happen. Accident investigation, in particular, is a crucial part of accident prevention because it can show districts where improvements can be made in their current risk management plan. Since accidents do happen and are, in some cases, hard to prevent, it is imperative that an investigation is done on all incidents.

When someone is injured in an accident or property is damaged, it is important to remember that investigating the accident is not a way to place blame on any parties involved. Instead, investigations must be performed in order to understand why and how an accident occurred and what can be done in the future to prevent a similar incident from occurring. Accident investigators should look into removing any risks that could have caused the accident. Investigators should also identify any unsafe practices that could have contributed to the accident, including building and equipment conditions such as flooring and personal protective equipment. The investigator should examine all accidents regardless of whether they caused injury or damage. A near-miss incident provides as much opportunity for prevention as an accident that resulted in injury or property damage. For instance, an unsafe practice in a shop resulting in a machine malfunctioning could potentially cause very serious injuries. A near-miss incident such as this should certainly be reported and any and all contributing factors should be remedied.

Accident investigations and reports need to be as thorough as circumstances and safety allow. Safety of personnel should always be the number one priority in all accident investigations, including determining the cause of an accident. If anyone is injured, the proper authorities should be contacted, whether it is the school nurse or 911.The area should be completely secured in order to prevent further injuries. After the safety of all employees has been secured, however, it is crucial to implement an accident investigation as soon as possible. The longer the delay, the harder to determine the cause of the accident and the harder for any possible witnesses to remember what was seen and heard. A good way to quickly implement an accident investigation is to have a simple accident report that can be swiftly completed. The Sandner Group – Claims Management’s Loss Control Manual and CD-rom provides a sample accident and illness report that can help districts begin the investigation. It is important to retain all records of accidents in the district’s files. Keeping accurate records of all incident reports can become invaluable if a similar accident occurs or if an injury is reported several weeks or months after an accident occurred.

All persons involved in the accident, the injured (or almost injured) and witnesses, should be interviewed. Photos of the area where the accident occurred, including all equipment that was being used, should be taken. These photos should be labeled and any causal factors should be clearly pointed out in the reports. The more information, the easier it will be to remove the risks that contributed to the accident. Some accident investigations, involve many steps, including interviews, and – occasionally – legal steps. The Sandner Group – Claims Management has highly trained claims specialists and adjusters to assist in dealing with all facets of the accident investigation. School districts need only investigate the causes and circumstances surrounding the incident. They should then report the incident to The Sandner Group – Claims Management, which will take care of all the steps following that (medical care, property repair, etc). We are here for all steps of the accident investigation.

The Sandner Group – Claims Management Loss Control and Claims Specialists are able to visit your district and determine the cause of an accident and recommend various ways to remedy the risk. They also conduct annual member service visits to help pinpoint risk areas. During this member service visit, districts are provided with a Loss Trend Analysis that shows districts their most frequent accident types. These analyses are highly valuable to district risk management programs. Districts can see areas in which they need to improve risk management. The Loss Trend Analysis also provides districts an opportunity to further analyze accident reports/investigations by answering such questions as: Why is there a high rate of slips/falls?  Did previous accidents occur with similar causes?  How can we improve the accident rate? The combination of risk management and thorough accident investigations is the best way to prevent accidents from happening.

It is a fact of life that accidents happen; however, it is our job to prevent them where we can, and use accidents that do occur as a learning tool toward accident prevention. Following the steps discussed in this article can help your district become a safer place, allowing employees and students to thrive in their respective roles. As always, if you have any questions or concerns regarding accident investigations or any facet of the risk management process, please do not hesitate to contact your loss control specialist, who is always available to provide advice and training to districts.