Investigating Accidents on a Large Construction Project

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Accidents can happen anytime at large construction projects. However, there are steps that companies can take to limit or eliminate accidents. With the aid of an investigation team, the root causes of incidents can be appropriately determined and addressed. This article seeks to provide an overview of how investigations should be taken to prevent accidents from happening again.

Construction Safety Management

An unsafe act or an unsafe condition can cause an accident. Safety management systems should focus more on these two areas than hazardous situations for accident prevention. First, many people focus on gathering physical evidence to account for an accident but give little effort to address unsafe acts.

Approximately 80 to 90 percent of accidents happen because of unsafe acts. Only 10 to 20 percent can be attributed to physical conditions. Although improving the physical safety of construction sites is essential, more effort has to be placed to eliminate unsafe acts. It means that the safety management effort of the construction industry has to shift to this goal. While identifying and preventing dangerous acts may be challenging, it is the ultimate way to reduce accidents in a construction project.

The Purpose of Incident Investigation on a Construction Site

The primary objective of investigating accidents on a large construction site is prevention. It is an essential aspect of safety management. When we can find the causes of an accident, we can take the necessary steps to eliminate or at least control them to prevent future accidents from happening.

Accidents in construction sites usually occur because of multiple causes. In an incident investigation, there are many factors to consider. For example, the worker or supervisory experience, the job constraints, and the work environment may all play a role in causing an incident. Is there a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) or inadequate construction safety training for the workers? It is crucial to the safety management effort to determine how the accident occurred.

The success of the whole accident investigation process relies heavily on finding facts, not finding faults. Whether it is a major or minor accident, it is the investigator’s job to get into the fine details of the incident to determine the root cause. As soon as we can establish the causes, we can take precautions and implement them on the construction site to prevent the recurrence of similar accidents.

To explain how and why the construction accidents happen, incident investigators need to collect as much information on the circumstances before and during the accidents. They need to collect physical evidence, witness testimonies, and other pertinent data that they can use to specify the accident conditions. It is also equally essential to document what steps were taken immediately after an incident. Was the safety management team prepared for the emergency? What measures can be taken to prevent unsafe acts related to the incident?

The results of an investigation can determine if the safety regulations need to be revised to prevent future incidents further. It can help companies understand why unsafe acts occur at the incident site. Remember that accidents can prevent an injured person from performing valuable work.

One of the best steps in improving the safety of a construction site is changing intentional unsafe behaviours. Intentional dangerous acts may occur, not mainly because of unsafe conditions, but on time pressures, stress, and other mental causes. The only way to uncover this information is to do a thorough investigation with the participation of the workers and supervisors.

However, for the results of investigations to be valuable in preventing accidents, there are three essential prerequisites:

  • The data must be examined thoroughly
  • The project management team has to take corrective action
  • All actions must be observed and scrutinized for effectiveness

Whenever an accident occurs in the construction site, there is a need to perform a thorough investigation immediately, no matter how severe the loss or the extent of the injuries. It is vital to act fast to determine the origin and cause of the accident and know if the act was intentional or otherwise. Construction site accidents can lead to intensive property damage and loss of life. An unsafe job site can lead to significant legal exposure.

Causes of Construction Accidents

Every year, thousands of accidents happen in large construction sites leading to injuries, property damage, and loss of life. Some of the most common cases involve being struck by falling debris, electrocution, and being caught between massive objects. Some of these things typically happen due to non-compliance with operations and safety standards or the lack of safety equipment. Sometimes, employees are not adequately trained on safety precautions or have a bad experience.

Some of the common causes of accidents in construction projects include the following:

  • Falling objects
  • Collapsing materials or cave-ins
  • Unsafe conditions
  • Slips and falls
  • Lack of safety protection and precaution for workers
  • Deficient machinery and equipment
  • Power line electrocutions
  • Vehicular accidents from dump trucks, backhoes, forklifts, etc.
  • Tripping as a result of hazardous construction materials
  • Missing protections or guards on power tools
  • Mechanical defects on power tools and machinery
  • Insufficient training and experience of workers

Construction Safety Priority

Safety should be the priority in all construction sites. It is essential to avoid or eliminate all potential hazards because history shows that most companies and workers usually overlook these life-saving precautions. All workers must follow occupational health and safety regulations and standards. Employers should enforce all necessary corrective action to prevent violation of safety protocols. Statistics show that accidents are caused mostly by unsafe acts of human behavior. Hence, most accidents can be avoided by focusing on changing the attitude of workers towards safety.

How to Conduct an Accident Investigation

An accident is an undesired and unplanned event that can damage equipment or property, injure people, and interrupt construction. Any accident or injury in a construction site should be investigated promptly if the goal is to retrieve as much accurate information as possible. The best practice is to explore all incidents regardless of how severe they are. Even near-miss incidents have to be investigated even if they have caused no harm or damage.

Many employers issue an accident investigation checklist for construction engineers and workers because an accident scene can be chaotic and disruptive. Although employees follow occupational safety rules, environmental factors, occupational hazards, mental and emotional troubles, and other unforeseen factors may lead to unwanted incidents. Having an investigation report may be beneficial in helping employers address the proper issues.

Step 1: Assess the Injury

It is essential to identify injured employees and assess how severe their injuries are whenever construction accidents happen. The lives of employees are more critical than damaged properties or equipment. As soon as the gravity of their injuries has been verified, it is crucial to decide whether they need immediate medical attention or not.

Step 2: Get Immediate Medical Treatment when Necessary

Some incidents may or may not involve injuries. However, if medical attention is required, employers should have safety managers who can immediately request medical assistance to the incident scene to address the severity of the injuries. If the employees need first-aid only, proceed to the next step.

Step 3: Interview Witnesses and Injured Employees

As soon as the injured employees have been addressed, the next stage is to interview them and gather as much information as to what, when, why, and how the accident happened. It is also crucial to interview witnesses to get their point of view, especially if there were no injured people during the accident.

Either the employer or a professional investigator should interview all injured employees and witnesses who have first-hand knowledge or experience of the accident. Every witness has to complete an eyewitness statement. The injured workers or witnesses should also complete an incident report to overview what occurred during the incident and possible causes. Supervisors may also write an incident report detailing what they have witnessed or know about the work environment and probable causes that may have led to the incident.

If you are the investigator, you should clarify the following:

  • What were the employees doing during the incident?
  • Were they qualified to perform their duties?
  • Did they follow company protocols?
  • Were they using the proper tools or equipment?
  • Were they being supervised adequately?
  • Did they receive the appropriate training for their jobs?
  • What were environmental conditions present during the accident?
  • What actions could have minimized the effect of the accident or prevented it?
  • What actions can the company do to avoid similar incidents?

Most of the time, it is not the physical conditions that cause an accident. Accidents can happen in construction projects because some tasks are given to the wrong employees. An immediate supervisor may have delegated a specific task to a worker who has not received the appropriate training to perform the task. If not, an employee may come to work emotionally or mentally troubled because of time constraints or deadline pressures. Therefore, it is crucial to do a thorough interview to get to the root cause of the accident.

Step 4: Analyze the Facts

The employers or the investigators have to observe the accident scene and take photographs. It is essential to cover the actual area, including the objects found there, equipment that may have caused the accident (e.g., exposed electrical cord, cracks on the floor surface, machinery, and the like).

It is also essential to determine if the accident was caused by inadequate training, work pressures, and other matters not caused by physical conditions. After determining the cause of the accident, the management team should immediately develop action plans that can correct the issues and make the place safer for employees and other people.

In coming up with an action plan, it is essential to determine the following:

  • Why was there an investigation in the first place?
  • What was the root cause of the incident?
  • What are crucial facts surrounding the event?
  • Were there previous action plans implemented to prevent the incident?
  • What could have caused the action plan to fail now?
  • Is there a better way to address the issue?

These are just some possible questions that need to be answered and analyzed. Employers or managers should document every step they have taken to secure the workplace.

Step 5: Take Corrective Action

The final step is to identify proper actions needed to prevent the recurrence of accidents and improve the safety performance on the construction project. For instance, if an employee disobeys a minor or significant safety rule, it is vital to enforce company policy and the proper corrective action immediately. If the employees do not follow company protocol, it may be because there is nothing done to prevent them from violating the rules.

By conducting thorough investigations, any company involved in large-scale constructions can lessen the risk of accidents. The safety team and the members need to review post-accident reports and learn everything they can from every accident discovered, minor accidents included, to improve safety standards in the workplace. This can help them develop the best recommendations and appropriate corrective actions to prevent future accidents.

Final Words

An investigation intends to determine the cause or origin of the incident, identify unsafe conditions or acts, and recommend corrective actions that will prevent similar occurrences from happening in the future. The purpose is not to find fault but to determine the facts of the incident for preventive measures.

Investigations have to be conducted by capable people knowledgeable about the workplace and the work involved. The employer and the workers should also participate in the inquiry. The result of investigations can improve safety and prevent human errors. Afterward, employers have to develop an action plan to ensure the safety of all employees in the worksite.

It is crucial to conduct an investigation immediately after an accident has occurred. It is your responsibility as an employer. However, you may need Accident Reconstruction if ever the incident goes legal. Also, you may want to have a Structural Damage assessment to determine the extent of damage in your construction site. You can rely on our services at Roar Engineering at any time.