Incident Investigation Meaning & Definition | EcoOnline US
Health & Safety Glossary

Incident Investigation

An incident is described as a situation or an occurrence during the course of work that could result in an injury, illness, affliction, or prove to be fatal. Investigating such incidents and accurately reporting them is critically important.


What is an Incident Investigation?

An incident investigation is an official review or examination of an unplanned event, whether major or minor, which may lead to an accident or a loss of time, property, health, or an individual’s life. For health and safety purposes, incident investigations generally include a thorough scientific analysis of the facts and the events that transpired. 

All incidents, whether it’s a close call or one that resulted in harm, need to be investigated. Incident investigations include processes for creating reports, tracking, and conducting thorough investigations to document what transpired and to analyse the effectiveness of hazard controls in place.

Workers conducting an incident investigationConducting thorough incident investigations after an accident at work is vital to good health and safety in the workplace. 

The Importance of Incident Investigations

Investigating incidents on worksites is very important, whether it’s a near-miss or one that resulted in injury. Incident investigations give workers and employers the necessary information to identify potential hazards and any flaws in their safety management programs. 

Incident investigations are important as they help safety officers and workers take corrective action to prevent harmful incidents in the future. The main intention behind incident investigations is to pinpoint the root cause that led to an incident. Investigators don’t necessarily focus on assigning blame; their main focus is to ensure the health and safety of workers and to the recurrence of such incidents.

This also increases morale across the workforce and improves productivity while demonstrating the employer’s commitment to making the worksite more secure and safer for employees. Most employers begin investigations without any delay after an incident occurs. 

This enforces the safety culture in the workplace and saves costs for companies, as it’s almost always cheaper to maintain an incident investigation and reporting program than to cover the costs after a major incident occurs. Here is a practical guide with the 'do's and don'ts' of managing incident reporting in your company. 


Is incident reporting the key to culture change?  Get this 17-page guide discussing how reporting incidents, close calls  and observations can help transform your safety culture.


The 6 Key Steps of an Incident Investigation

There are several key steps involved in conducting a thorough and effective incident investigation. These are as follows:

1. Taking Immediate Action

In case an incident occurs, immediate action is necessary to ensure the health and safety of those involved. First aid and medical care should be provided immediately to prevent further harm, and the area should be secured immediately. Steps should be taken to manage on-site traffic too.

The scene of the incident has to be secured and all relevant parties must be notified through a brief report. The investigation should begin at this stage by collecting all evidence, which includes samples from the incident site, as well as CCTV footage or other recordings. 

2. Planning the Investigation

The next step is to plan the investigation to ensure that it’s carried out in a systematic manner and is thorough. During the planning stage, the following questions should be answered:

  • What resources are required for the investigation?
  • Who will be involved in the investigation?
  • How long is the investigation expected to take?
  • What are the likely challenges the investigator(s) may face?
  • Identifying witnesses 
  • Analysing physical evidence, including photographs, recordings, and establishing the chain of events

3. Collecting Relevant Data

Data collection is a critical step in the incident investigation process. All information about the incident has to be collected from several sources to firmly establish the causality of the events. Apart from collecting accounts from witnesses and people involved, data must also be gathered from any relevant documents, equipment, or items present at the scene of the incident. 

Questionnaires are often used to gather data from people present at the scene of the incident.

4. Analysing the Data

In most cases, an incident involves a series of events that occur in quick succession. Investigators have to analyse this sequence of events first to gain a better understanding of why the event occurred. Here, six key elements have to be addressed: who, what, when, how, why, and where. 

Investigators analyse the data to separate opinions from facts at this state to understand both the direct and indirect causes. Instead of just identifying failure or a mistake, investigators seek to understand whether an error-enforcing culture was allowed to continue in the workplace, and why. 

They also seek to identify any failings on the part of the management and any influencing factors that may have contributed to the incident, including the general workplace culture, the mental or physical abilities of those involved, and the management systems in use within the organisation. 

5. Proposing Corrective Action

Once the investigators identify all direct, underlying, and root causes that led to the incident, they propose corrective actions. Good incident investigations don’t just focus on direct causes and offer some quick fixes. 

Instead, they take the opportunity to address both the underlying and root causes to ensure that such incidents do not occur again. 

Ultimately, this also reduces the probability of other dissimilar incidents occurring on worksites that may arise from the same underlying causes.

6. Preparing a Report

The final step of the incident investigation is to prepare a comprehensive report outlining all issues, causes, and findings. The lessons derived during the course of the investigation are also included within the report, which is then communicated using several mechanisms. These include formal reports, presentations, memos, and topics brought up in meetings. 

How Are Incident Investigations Conducted?

While the method of the investigation varies depending upon the nature of the incident or the resources available to the company, most incident investigations follow a similar pattern. 

After an incident occurs, the investigators immediately cordon off the area and provide first aid to those involved. Immediate medical care is provided and those in charge are informed of what transpired.

In case of complex incidents that carry greater risks, a multidisciplinary team of investigators might be formed. Investigators generally have formal training in conducting incident investigations, and they usually receive support from personnel throughout the company. 

The incident is categorised and analysed according to predefined procedures. The investigators also look through the incident database to identify any trends that may indicate an increase in recurring incidents, which would require a more formal investigation. 

The investigation report is formally presented, and the company then determines whether to revise safety guidelines and processes in light of the report’s findings. 

Using Incident Reporting Software to Manage Investigations

Businesses generally use incident reporting software to capture and manage data related to incident reporting. EcoOnline’s incident reporting platform makes it easy for organisations to gain more insight into the data by visualising it to identify patterns and indicators. 

It offers support for more than 90 languages and allows investigators to generate in-depth reports and assign specific tasks. The centralised platform is ideal for businesses that want to comply with SHE-Q standards and analyse trends pertaining to recent incidents.