Many organizations approach incident analysis with one goal in mind, when in fact, there should be two. One goal is to determine the immediate causes and root causes including management system failures which allowed the incident to occur, so effective countermeasures can be taken to reduce future injury risk. Many organizations do not realize there's a second goal. The second goal is to encourage full and open participation of all employees involved in, witness to, or with pertinent information for any incident on site. To accomplish this, organizations need to create a non-adversarial atmosphere around reporting and analyzing incidents. They need to create an atmosphere free of blame and discipline. There are many characteristics that impact our ability to meet these two goals. One characteristic is the degree of employee involvement during analysis and follow-up.
So, how do we get those line workers openly participating in incident reporting and analysis? One place to start is to create a non-adversarial atmosphere during the interview phase of the incident analysis process. The interview phase is often where employees develop the perception the incident analysis process is faultfinding. Organizations need to remember that the interviewing phase of the process is crucial for information gathering and for perception management. This paper will include ways to get better information and make the process a more empowering event for all involved. In particular, this paper will review the nuts and bolts of witness interviews (the why, who, when, where, and how), how best to communicate (i.e., the interview sequence), and how to enhance the memory of witnesses. Safety managers should take a leadership role in their organization's incident reporting and analysis process. This paper will help safety managers evaluate their own incident analysis process and to make suggestions for process changes.
First, the nuts and bolts of witness interviews will be discussed. Why conduct interviews? Employees will have information of significance to all incidents whether or not they involve injury or human error. This information is important to the problem solving aspect of incident analysis. The more employees get involved in problem solving, the better job they do in fixing system problems before they reach the incident stage. Additionally, including employees in decision-making, recommendation of corrective actions, and other activities of the incident analysis team enhance team building. This involvement in turn, increases employee ownership of safety, another route to improving safety in the workplace. So, when incidents occur, we want to involve witnesses and others to get information from them, but also to engage them in developing solutions and to build buy-in and ownership. However, an important issue organizations must address is whether or not employees want to participate.