How to Create an Incident Investigation Plan

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Before you have an incident at work that requires an incident investigation, it’s a good idea to have an incident investigation plan in place.

Having an incident investigation plan in place will allow you to quickly and smoothly begin, conduct, and complete your incident investigation. You’ll know what to do when, you’ll know who to involve and notify, and you’ll have all your supplies and equipment ready to go.

In this article, we’ll give you some tips for pulling together your own incident investigation plan.

And feel free to download our free guide to conducting a job hazard analysis (JHA), which may help you avoid having to conduct incident investigations as well.

What You Need to Know about Incident Investigation Plans

Let’s get started with what you need to know about creating your own incident investigation plan for work.

What Is an Incident Investigation Plan?

Good question.

An incident investigation plan is the plan you’ll create to help prepare you to lead incident investigations at work, including both getting ready in advance and conducting the actual incident investigation.

When To Create an Incident Investigation Plan?

The idea here, obviously, is to create your incident investigation plan before there’s an incident at work. That way, should there be an incident, the plan will be in place and the investigation will run more smoothly.

So, the answer here is you should do this soon. Or now. But definitely put it on the short-term radar instead of the long-term one.

Why Should You Get Started on Your Incident Investigation Plan Soon?

Because there’s a lot to do to get ready. That’s the short answer.

To create your incident investigation plan, you’re going to need time to:

  • Give some things some consideration
  • Make some key decisions
  • Notify other people
  • Provide training to coworkers
  • Round up some necessary materials and supplies
  • Create forms and other documents

That’s a lot to do, right? So it makes sense to start working on this now? And be sure it’s done before a workplace incident occurs? No?

So, do it as soon as you finish reading this article. Or, open up your calendar and set an appointment with yourself to do it soon.

What Should Your Incident Investigation Plan Include?

Here are some things to include in your incident investigation plan:

  • Which incidents to investigate
  • What type of incident investigation will you be performing
  • How thoroughly will you investigate different types of incidents
  • Who will be involved in incident investigations
  • What will you want in your incident investigation kit
  • When should your organization contact outside help during certain emergencies
  • Have all employees, including supervisors, received proper training about incidents & incident investigations?
  • Plans and procedures for creating, printing, and storing necessary forms and documents, including investigation forms, interview forms, and incident investigation reports
  • Determining who will conduct each phase of the incident investigation

We’ll look at each of these aspects of the incident investigation plan in a little more detail below.


What Incidents Will Trigger an Incident Investigation?

Will you perform an incident investigation after every incident, or just after some of them?

If some, how will you determine which incidents call for an investigation? Only the most severe? Only the most costly?

And what about near misses? Safety observations?

What Type of Incident Investigation Will You Perform?

Probably the most common way to perform an incident investigation involves going to the scene, performing interviews, and searching for one or more root cause(s). This method is described in full in our How to Perform an Incident Investigation article.

A newer, alternative method is to perform a learning team exercise, which is more of a team-based learning approach. To learn more about this, read our Conducting Learning Teams for Incident Investigations article.

You’re going to want to decide exactly what type of incident investigation you’ll be performing during this part of the process.

How Thoroughly Will You Investigate Different Types of Incidents?

You may not be able to apply the same amount of time, thought, resources, and effort to every incident investigation.

Some incidents may call for consideration but not a full-scale investigation. Others may be “all hands on deck” moments.

Who Will Be Involved In Incident Investigations?

Who’s going to be involved in incident investigations?

You? Just you?

Or will you create a team? If so, who will be on it? Will that team include employees (we think it should). Legal? Engineering? Management?

If you are going to include others, do they know this? Do they know their roles?

What about external, third-party investigators? Will you ever use those services? If so, when? (Note: this article on conducting an incident investigation includes some thoughts on going it alone as opposed to working with a third party on incident investigations).

What Should You Put Into Your Incident Investigation Kit?

Wouldn’t it be great if, when an incident does occur at work, you’ve got a pre-planned, pre-packed bag or case full of everything you’ll need to conduct the investigation?

That’s what an incident investigation kit is. And they’re handy.

Why not take some time sooner instead of later to come up with a list of what you’ll need and then assemble it all in one handy carrying case?

For more on this, check out our How to Prepare an Incident Investigation Kit article.


Create Policies and Procedures for Contacting Outside Emergency Assistance

There may be incidents that are so severe that they require you get help from emergency responders: an active shooter situation, a serious injury, a fire, or something like that.

Now’s a good time to figure out all of the emergency responders that you may need to call on in the event of serious incidents like this, find out the best way to contact them, create lists with those contact numbers, and post them at appropriate places at work.

In addition, what about the infrastructure? How will you contact these people? On landline phones? On computers? On cell phones? Via walkie-talkies? Make sure you’ve got the proper equipment in place, make sure it works, set up procedures to test them recurrently, and make sure everyone knows how they use them.

How Will People at Work Learn About Incident Investigations and Their Roles In those Incident Investigations?

It’s a good idea for everyone at work to learn more about the incident investigation process.

In particular, that you plan on conducting incident investigations after incidents occur and that those investigations will be used to learn and try to prevent future incidents, not to assign blame and punish.

You’ll also want to make sure people know what to do in the event of an incident, what the incident investigation process is, and what role they will play, if any, in the incident investigation.

Get Your Incident Investigation Forms Ready in Advance

You may want to create incident investigation forms that will guide you (and others) through the different steps of the incident investigation and provide you places to enter information while you’re performing the investigation.

Get these ready now, so they’re ready to go when you are.

Get Incident Investigation Interview Forms Ready in Advance

In some incident investigations, you’ll perform interviews of people who were involved in or witnessed the incident.

If you’ll be performing incident investigation interviews like these, it’s wise to create forms to help guide you and to help write down interview answers during the incident investigation.

Get Incident Investigation Reports Ready, Too

After the incident investigation has been completed, you’ll want to create and send reports about it to key people in your organization.

Get those reports ready, in template form, now.


Figure out who will get a full copy of the completed incident investigation report

When you create those incident investigation reports, you’ll want to know who to send them to.

Come up with that list in advance.

Develop a method for implementing corrective actions

In most cases, after an incident investigation has been completed, you’ll want to put into effect one or more corrective actions.

Begin thinking now about how that happens–who do you notify, how does that person get notified, and similar questions.

Develop a method to determine if corrective actions have been implemented

And those corrective actions need to be completed, as well. And you’ll want to have a method to ensure that’s true.

Figure out now how you’ll do that.

Hint: an online Incident Management System, like the one demonstrated in the brief overview video below, can help with this.

Click to learn more about our online incident management system (IMS).

Conclusion: It Pays to Put Together an Incident Investigation Plan BEFORE You Have an Incident

Having a well thought-out, carefully prepared incident investigation plan can be a big help if and when you do have to conduct an incident investigation at work. We hope this article was useful in helping you begin creating your own incident investigation plan.

Before you go, download the free Guide to Conducting Job Hazard Analyses (JHA) at work–completing JHAs will help reduce the number of incidents you’ll have and the number of incident investigations you’ll have to perform.

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Job Hazard Analysis Guide

Learn how to perform a job hazard analysis on the job with our free step-by-step guide.

Download Free Guide

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 20 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center, and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training.

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