Accident Investigation

Every day, thousands of accidents occur around the United States. Most are caused by the failure of people, equipment, supplies, and surroundings to behave or react as expected. Accident investigations determine how and why these failures occur. By using the information during an investigation, a similar or perhaps more disastrous future accident may be prevented. It is important to conduct accident investigations with prevention in mind.

An effective health and safety program is dependant upon several factors. Some of these include the credibility of management involved in the program; the inclusion of employees in health and safety judgments; strenuous worksite analysis to identify possible hazards, including those resulting from a change in worksite conditions or practices; strict prevention and control procedures; and methodical training. Successful programs address hazards whether or not they are regulated by government standards.

Accidents occur in the workplace when hazards go unnoticed despite preventive measures, when hazards are not apparent, or when unforeseeable circumstances combine to a bad end. A thorough accident investigation may identify previously overlooked physical, environmental, administrative, or process hazards; the need for new or more extensive safety training; or unsafe work practices. The most important aspect of an accident investigation should be the collection and assessment of the facts surrounding the incident, as well as anything that can be learned to prevent future occurrences.

Initially, it is best to find out what caused the accident and what can be done to prevent or reduce the chances of a similar accident occurring in the future. This involves the immediate collection of data, which can be physical or testimonial evidence; the analysis and examination of the data; the presentation of conclusions that may be drawn from the analysis; and the suggestion of steps that can be taken to improve upon the design or use of the commodity involved in the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigates aviation, highway, marine, pipeline and hazardous materials, railroad, and transportation disaster assistance accidents (Columbia Accident Investigation Board 2003). Although it is the role of an accident investigation to find the cause of an accident, it is not involved in placing blame for the failure upon a culpable body. The results of the investigation are often presented as evidence, which then leads to actions taken against a guilty party. Depending on the size and scope of the accident, the person or group conducting the investigation could be the supervisor in a warehouse or a hired expert who specializes in collecting, analyzing, and presenting data regarding an accident investigation.


Columbia Accident Investigation Board. 2003. “Loss of the Shuttle”. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/27/us/loss-shuttle-excerpts-report-columbia-accident-investigation-board.html?pagewanted=1.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 2009. “Safety and Health Topics: Accident Investigation”. U.S. Department of Labor. http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/accidentinvestigation/index.html.

Pasztor, A. 2010. “NTSB Proposes Changes to Air Safety in Wake of Fatal Crash”. The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704022804575041110115738000.html.

Princeton University. 2003. “Accident Investigation Procedure”. Health and Safety Guide. http://web.princeton.edu/sites/ehs/healthsafetyguide/a2.htm.

The Associated Press. 2010. “New York police agree driver error caused Prius crash”. USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2010-03-22-ny-prius_N.htm.