Risk Management: Should First Line Supervisors Conduct Accident Investigations?

Its Saturday night of a three day weekend (the kind where people go away), an accident happens and someone was hurt.  Who are you going to get to investigate?  If the person is seriously injured, who are you going to get to secure the scene?  Do you have anybody who knows what to do?

Well, I think that now, before an accident happens, we should seriously train our first line supervisors to conduct accident investigations.  I can hear it now.  “You have got to be kidding me.  First, it was accident reports.  Well okay that makes sense.  But John, how do you think first line supervisors can investigate accidents?  What the hell are you smoking and why aren’t you sharing (just kidding)?  Why do we have a safety manager/risk manager?  Isn’t this his job?”

Yes accident investigations are the responsibility of the safety manager or the risk manager.  But, let’s face facts:

  • The first line supervisors/managers are right there; and we are not.
  • They will see (or can be trained to recognize) the hazards that may have contributed to the accident
  • They can get perishable information that could be lost, if not obtained immediately
  • They are the first people who can secure the scene.
  • Someone needs to get the information to fill out the insurance forms before people forget facts.
  • We can establish procedures for them to call for help.
  • If OSHA shows up, they are going to be looking for the operations person in charge, and NOT the safety or risk manager.

So, I suggest that the first line supervisors should be the ones to start an accident investigation especially any accident where there are only minor injuries. Properly trained supervisors will quickly recognize when an incident is “above their pay grade” and will be eager to reach out for more experienced help.  But remember they are there with the “first look” at routine accidents.  You can train them to make a phone call for any accident that meets certain criteria – media presence, member of the public, death, serious injury, requires Emergency Services response, more than one person going to hospital, hazmat incident, regulatory agency on scene, etc.

The biggest and most important thing to remember is the purpose of an accident investigation.  The objective of an accident investigation is NOT to find fault or place blame. It is NOT to cover your butt. The objective of an accident investigation is to prevent that type of accident from happening again.

Before we start an investigation, we need a few ground rules.

  1. Ensure that any injured party receives the appropriate medical attention.
  2. Make sure that the site is safe.  If necessary, stabilize or eliminate (if needed) any IDLH condition.
  3. Assure the safety of others.
  4. Secure the site.  I often tell first line supervisors to consider the accident scene as if it were a crime scene.  Do not allow anyone to remove equipment or material from the area.
  5. Make all required notifications (follow your company procedures).
  6. Then you can start to investigate the accident.

The initial investigation is focused on gathering information.  I think that the most important thing to remember while gathering information or when performing any accident investigation is to be open-minded and unbiased.  If you approach an accident looking to find that the injured was at fault, then you will focus the investigation in such a way that you will find exactly what you are looking for. You need to try to leave your biases at home.

Your accident investigation should only begin after you ensure that the injured are cared for, the scene is safe and secure, and everyone else is safe. (Source - internet unknown)

Your accident investigation should only begin after you ensure that the injured are cared for, the scene is safe and secure, and everyone else is safe. (Source – internet unknown)

There are a few tools that any first line supervisor should have to gather information after an accident:

  • A pad and pen or pencil (obviously helps to take notes or make sketches)
  • A camera (most cell phone today are equipped with cameras)
  • A draft copy of any required company, insurance carrier or state forms (helps you remember to gather all of the information required).

Any investigator or first line supervisor gathering information should size up the scene when approaching the accident site.  This is when the camera first comes in handy.  Take photos of the accident site from a distance from different angles – box the compass (take photos from the north, south, east, west, northeast, etc.).  This allows others to examine the scene later if more in depth investigations are required.  Obviously, you should take detailed photos of the accident site, but the distance shots allow a frame of reference for the detail shots.  This might be a good place to start a sketch of the accident scene.

Gathering information requires us to ask questions – who, what, where, when, how and why.

  • WHO:  Who got injured?  Who saw the accident (the witnesses)?  Who was working with (or was with) the injured person(s)?  Who else was present?  Who was absent?  Who was present at the safety briefing?
  • WHAT:  What was the injury (slip, trip or fall, struck-by, etc.)?  What was the injured doing?  What equipment or tools were being used?  What did the witnesses see?  What safety precautions were being followed?  What instructions were given to the workers before the work started?  What was the safety briefing before work started or re-started?
  • WHERE:  Where did the accident happen?  Where was the injured when the accident happened?  Where was the injured coming from?  Where were any co-workers?  Where were the witnesses?  Where were the tools, that were being used, found after the accidents?  Answers to all these questions should be added to the accident sketch.
  • WHEN:  When did the accident happen?  When did the shift start?  When did the injured change jobs?  When was the safety briefing given?  When did the supervisor check in on the job?  When was the injured person trained to do the task that caused the injury?  When was the equipment last maintained or repaired?
  • HOW:  How did the accident happen?
  • WHY:  Why did the accident happen?  This is what we really want to find out.  This is the last question that we are asking.  We want to find the root cause(s).  I have found in my experiences that there is rarely just one root cause to an accident, rather there are usually at least two root causes to an accident.

We know what information we want to find out.  But it is important to know how to ask questions to gather the right information.  If you ask direct questions, you will get yes, no or direct answers.  You need to know how to ask open ended questions.  As an example – rather than asking if someone witnessed the accident, you should ask where they were before the accident (add this information to your sketch).  Ask them to describe what they were doing before the accident.  Ask them to describe what they saw before the accident.  Ask them to describe what they actually saw.  Ask them to describe the scene after the accidents (where were the people found and where were things – tools, ladders, etc.).  As they answer your questions, ask clarification questions to ensure that you understand everything that they can remember.  Be like the old Peter Falk character, Lt. Colombo – I got just one more question.  Chase the questions down the rabbit hole.  A mentor of mine reminded me to be aggressively suspicious – never take any answer at face value.  Always verify each answer, by asking the next logical question.

When your first line supervisors/managers finish their investigation, they should forward it to senior management, the safety department or the risk department before they leave for the day.  Now, it is management’s (i.e., general manager, risk manager, safety manager, etc.) responsibility to review the report and conduct any follow up investigation required.  Also, if there is no root cause identified, then the report needs to be finished.  Management should communicate to everyone the root cause(s) of each accident and the changes that are being made to prevent the accident from happening again.

Obviously, there are situations where this will not work and where the accident investigation should be conducted by an independent third party.  But there are more situations where this will work and your first line supervisors will learn from it.  By conducting the accident investigation, they may be able to correct the situation on the post rather than waiting weeks for an “official” accident investigation report.  They may not get it right the first time out of the box, but you gotta let‘em try.

(c) John Burke, CSP, ARM. 2013.

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Fall Protection: Whoops I Fell And I Wasn’t Tied Off

I know that I promised a blog post on accident investigation, but I have not finished it yet.  Mental block. I want to start this post with a rhetorical question – If you fall in an accident, what is the … Continue reading

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Accidents Happen: You Shouldn’t Have To Be There When It Does

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A friend of mine had an accident happen in his store yesterday. A patron got a cut on one of the seats in the store and the parent reported it to the store employees. My friend, the owner was at … Continue reading

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Risk Management: Fall Protection – Whoops, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

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Joe is a laborer sweeping and cleaning up on the fifteenth floor of a new building under construction.  He is wearing a Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS) harness and is tied off to the cable the super told him to.  … Continue reading

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Risk Management – What Is Your Insurance Fitness?

Well, its February and by now most of us have forgotten to keep our personal New Year’s fitness resolutions.  But this is a good time to check up on our insurance fitness.   For those of you who are getting your annual bids on your insurance, it is a very important time.  I live in the NYC Metropolitan area and after Superstorm Sandy, many business owners are wondering what am I covered for?  Many people found out after the storm hit that their insurance policies were not going to cover damages because the policies contained clauses that excluded claims because of flooding or named wind storms.  Some companies grew and never really updated their insurance coverage and suddenly found themselves with claims that they never expected as a small company and are not covered by the old polices that are not adequate for the current company.  I am going to discuss what all business owners need to look for in their business owner policies including issues that are not related to storm damage.

After disaster strikes is NOT the time to find out what your insurance policy covers.  (c) John Burke; 2012.

After disaster strikes is NOT the time to find out what your insurance policy covers. (c) John Burke; 2012.

Insurance coverage is part of a bigger risk management plan for companies.  There are serious business decisions that need to be made when selecting insurance and insurance coverage.  These decisions are typically made on the history of claims, the company’s financial performance, and their appetite for risk.  Insurance selection is complex because there are many different types of policies:  auto, general liability, workers compensation, property, fire and theft, EPLI, business interruption, terrorism, flood, cyber, excess coverage, just to name a few.  All policies have claim limits, coverage limits, and exclusions.  There are deductibles or self insurance retainage.  There are companies that can afford, because of cash flow or cash balances, to pay large deductibles (i.e. $50K or higher).  But many smaller companies do not have the cash or cash flow to pay deductibles that are higher than $5,000.  Insurance and risk management is a complex equation of business decisions.

Larger companies have risk management departments and/or a risk manager who handles insurance and claims.  Their insurance coverage is often a mix of policies with large self insurance retainage (SIR) and layers of excess coverage policies.  They have a master broker and smaller brokers for different policies that are put out for bid on a regular basis.  Smaller companies do not have the luxury or money to afford a separate risk management department or manager.  Smaller companies that can’t afford a risk manager still need some risk management advice and should look to their broker or hire a risk management consultant.  A business owner cannot abdicate responsibility to a broker or consultant; he or she must understand what does the insurance cover, what is excluded from the policy, what is intentionally excluded by not selecting some insurance products, what is the risk, what are the deductibles or SIRs, what events are excluded from the policy, what events make the policy null and void, what are the policy claim limits (per claim, per event and total limit per coverage period), does the claim limit cover making the owner whole and can they afford the risks.

Let’s break these down to understand them.

What does the policy cover and what is excluded from the policy:  Generally speaking, an insurance product covers the items described in the policy title.  A GL policy will cover general liability claims arising from operations of the company but GL claims from auto accidents, fire and worker injuries are usually excluded from coverage under the GL policy.  There are some business owner policies (BOPs) that sometime group GL, fire, theft and property in one policy.  Auto accidents and liability claims that arise from the use of company vehicles are usually covered by the auto or vehicle policy.

What is intentionally excluded by not selecting some insurance products:  This is one area where a business owner needs some good advice from the broker or consultant.  Not every business needs coverage for all types of policies.  Some businesses do not have flood insurance and therefore have no policy coverage in the event of a flood.  This may be a business decision based on the fact that the company is located miles from the FEMA 100 year flood plains.  But what is the coverage if a local storm sewer backs up and floods your belowground storage area?  A small company that started out as a three person operation never felt that they needed employer practices liability insurance (EPLI).  Is this still true when the three partners now have 15 employees?  Sometimes not selecting a policy makes sense but you need to look at this choice versus your current operation.  Do you really need auto insurance if you have no company owned cars?  Are you protected when your employee using his/her own car for company business gets in an accident?

What events are excluded or trigger non-coverage from the policy and what events make the policy null and void:  As I covered in a previous post, fire and theft policies have clauses that limit or exclude coverage when protective devices or systems are out of service and the carrier is not notified in a timely manner.  There are some GL and worker compensation policies that exclude coverage if a contractor is working on a project that is covered by an owner or contractor controlled insurance program (an OCIP or CCIP).  Owners that do not enroll in the OCIP or CCIP often unknowingly place their companies and the OCIP at risk.  After Sandy hit New York, some business owners found that their business interruption insurance did not allow claims if the business interruption was due to a general power outage and not one limited to their property.  Floods are events that usually limit coverage under most insurance policies.  Most GL policies do not cover claims arising from discrimination or sexual harassment.  Pollution events and terrorist events are also usually excluded by most business policies unless there is a separate rider.

What are the deductibles or SIRs:  Are the deductibles or SIRs per claim or per event?  Is there a cap or maximum aggregate amount on deductibles?  Typically, the deductible is set by the underwriter.  The underwriter will set one deductible or give you a choice of deductible amounts.  Selecting the deductible is a risk management business decision that is based on how much can an owner afford to pay out of pocket, and what is the likelihood that you will have to pay more than one deductible per event or policy period.  I know one restaurant owner who is fighting his broker because they are asking for three deductibles for one event (Superstorm Sandy) – one for business interruption, one for loss of food and one for property damage – all on the same BOP.

What are the policy claim limits (per claim, per event and total limit per coverage period)?  Does the claim limit cover making the owner whole after an event?:  All policies have limits on the amount of money that the policy will pay out.  There are per claim limits and total limits for each policy period.  A business owner has to look at the risks involved in each type of event that can affect his/her business.  An owner has to ask “If a storm hits and causes my building to go on fire, how am I covered?”  If the cost of replacing the building and the cost of lost product or inventory plus the lost business exceeds the BOP policy limit, then the owner needs to look at a higher limit, self insure for the excess or get an excess or umbrella policy(ies).

What is the risk:  The risk is the loss of a business.  Most small business owners have sunk their life savings into the business, so walking away from the business is not an option.  Small business owners need to be “made whole” after a loss event.  So business owners need to know:

  • How they are covered
  • What they are covered for
  • What things are they not covered for
  • How much are they covered for
  • How much does this cost
  • What is the likelihood of any event (especially a catastrophic event) occurring., and;
  • Can they afford the risks.
An owner needs to read and understand the insurance policies - what is covered; what isn't.

An owner needs to read and understand the insurance policies – what is covered; what isn’t.


  1. An owner needs to understand the risk and his/her appetite (and the business’s appetite) for risk.
  • They need to know how much can they afford to lose.
  • Owners need to know how much will cost to recover from a catastrophic event.
    • How much will it cost to rebuild you structure including permits?
    • How long will it take and how much business will be lost?
    • Can I relocate temporarily and will my insurance cover that?
    • If not how will I fund this
    • They need to know the likelihood that a catastrophic event will occur.
  1. An owner needs to understand how they bid out their insurance business and how the insurance market responds.
  • Big companies like to stay with one broker or carrier for a period of time.  Because of their size, the underwriter (the person who set the price) will know what the risks are for that customer and will price the policy accordingly.  Underwriters will compete to keep good risk customers, so big businesses get prices that reflect their risk and size.
  • Small businesses don’t have the same exposure to the underwriter.  As far as the underwriter is concerned each fast food restaurant in a given area has the same risks as all of the fast food restaurants in that area.  If a owner has been dealing with the same broker, he/she may get a better price because of that relationship.
  • Every so often, all businesses should test the market to ensure that they are getting the best price and the best coverage.  Some small businesses bid out their insurance coverage each year.
  • Sometimes all the carriers think that an area has too much risk for a high cost event and they limit coverage or will abandon an area all together.  After Sandy, many companies raised their deductibles for “named wind storms” and increased the business interruption periods (sometimes doubling the waiting period).
  1. An owner needs to understand what their business is covered for
  • The only way to do this is to read the insurance policies and map out what the coverages are.  By doing this you can check for gaps in coverage and coverage overlaps.
  • If you don’t understand what the coverage wording means ask your broker or hire a risk consultant.
  • I work with one office manager who sets up a spread sheet with the different policy categories and what the policy covers.
  • Every year, she uses this spreadsheet comparison to compare bids for insurance coverage to the approved brokers/carriers for her business.  On her spreadsheet she also notes the costs for each policy and any extras to ensure that all the policies that she is comparing are the similar.
  • I worked with one risk manager who used a chart for coverages, deductibles and policy limits to show any gaps in coverage or coverage overlaps (ie. An opportunity for cost savings for the owner)
  1. An owner needs to understand what their business is NOT covered for
  • The only way to do this is to read the insurance policies
  • Make sure that all the risks you are aware of are covered by the policies
  • Check and make sure that you are not at risk for any excluded events
  • Make sure you understand all you deductibles and limits
  • Do you have an umbrella or excess policy and does it cover the gaps for high end coverage
  • Do you understand the time limits to notify the carrier/broker of any claims or potential claims
  • If you have any questions, be like Columbo and ask “I have just one more question.”  One director that I worked with said be aggressively suspicious and ask questions until you are sure there are no more questions to ask.
  • Map out what the coverages are and the coverage gaps.

After an incident or disaster is not the time to find out what your insurance coverage is.  Insurance is an important business decision and it is a process.  Be aware.  Be proactive.  Be prepared.

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Change: Good or Bad?

Those of you who have visited this blog site may have noticed a recent change.  The original site name was Homeland Safety but has since been changed.  In November 2012, Homeland Safety ceased to exist, and I found myself without … Continue reading

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Risky Business – Playing With Fire Protection

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It’s October and once again it’s Fire Prevention Month.  So this year, I will try to compose a few posts that will look at fire prevention and fire protection from a risk management point of view.  In this post I … Continue reading

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