Skip to main content

© All rights reserved.


Incidents Require an Immediate Response

Incidents on job sites can cause pain and mental anguish, disrupt project timelines, escalate costs
and have lasting repercussions on an employer’s safety performance record. When an incident
occurs, company management and safety professionals must respond in a timely manner.

Typically, the first responsive action is obtaining detailed information about the incident as
quickly as possible. Ask about any injuries that may have occurred and their severity, as well as
whether the injured party is still on the scene or has been transported to a medical facility. Find
out if emergency responders and law enforcement have been notified if they aren’t already
present at the scene. The health and safety of an employer’s human assets should be the first
priority after an incident has occurred.

Next, ask if there was any failure of equipment, facilities, tools or materials, and also find out if
there was damage to or destruction of anything on the job site. You should then ask about any
retrieval, repair or clean-up needs.

Those responding to the incident scene should also engage in the following three actions.

1. Scene Preservation
Preserving the accident scene means isolating the area to prevent any unauthorized access or
tampering with evidence. Evidence includes tools and equipment used, personal protective
equipment used, the job brief or other safety communication documents for the day’s work,
equipment inspection forms and so forth. Preserving the scene helps to ensure that a thorough
investigation can take place, with the goal of determining the incident’s cause. Note that there
may be instances when collaboration is required with law enforcement, especially when fatalities

2. Witness Interviews
Job sites can be dynamic environments with multiple subcontractors working at the same time.
Interviewing incident witnesses while their memories are still fresh is vital to capturing as much
accurate detail as possible, and doing so can also help to minimize biases and influences. It is
good practice to interview each witness separately and make them feel their contributions are
essential. These interviews can provide significant insights into the circumstances and actions
leading up to the incident and assist in determining contributing factors and the root cause. When
interviewing witnesses, investigators should exhibit an unbiased perception of the incident; this
can help the investigating team to best determine all probable causes.

3. Evidence Documentation
In addition to securing the scene and gathering witness statements, it is critical to document all
evidence. This includes capturing photographs of the incident scene.
Further, documentation of job site conditions at the time of the incident can be immensely
valuable. Obtaining a record of the required safety practices and procedures that were to be
followed at the time of the incident is also of great significance. Keep in mind that evidence
collection may be hampered if the incident resulted in a fatality because law enforcement may
collect any potential evidence. Collaboration is warranted when interacting with law
enforcement. Ask them to inspect and photograph any evidence before they remove it from the

The Role of Trained Investigative Professionals
While managers and supervisors play a pivotal role in the immediate response to an incident, a
trained, experienced investigative professional can enhance the quality of the investigation.

An experienced investigator should have the relevant expertise and objectivity to accurately
determine an incident’s cause. Their experience enables them to ask the right questions and
effectively collect and analyze evidence. Their impartiality should help to ensure a fair
examination of the incident details. A trained investigator can be an in-house employee or a
third-party consultant.

After the initial response to an incident – which, as noted earlier, should include scene
preservation, obtaining witness statements and documenting evidence – a comprehensive
analysis of all collected evidence and data should be performed. An investigative professional
can conduct a timely and thorough investigation, diving deep into the incident's contributing
factors with the goal of determining a root cause.

Note that timely investigations can help to accurately determine liability. A well-documented
investigation may reduce disputes and can potentially lead to more favorable outcomes for the
employer. Conducting an immediate, thorough investigation after an incident also demonstrates
an ongoing commitment to safety and helps to reinforce the importance of safety and
accountability among all stakeholders.

Safety and accountability go hand in hand in our industry. Company management must act
swiftly to secure incident scenes, interview witnesses and document evidence. Using a trained
investigator or safety professional to assist improves the quality and impartiality of an
investigation. In combination, these measures can result in more favorable outcomes while
reducing future risks. By prioritizing immediate incident investigations, you help to ensure the
well-being of the labor force and protect your projects.

About the Author: Charles Keeling, CUSP, is a 35-year safety professional in general industry
and construction. He is also a certified New York State Workplace Safety Consultant. Keeling
earned a bachelor’s degree in fire and emergency management and currently works with PSEG
Long Island conducting safety and regulatory compliance duties. He also serves as the ASSP
Region VIII metro area director. Reach him at

Tailgate Topics