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Life As An Investigator- The REAL Story


When people ask what I do and hear about the places I go, they tend to say things like “Gee, you’re lucky - you get to travel every week and go to so many places. It must be an interesting, great job”. I assure them that living out of a suitcase, seeing the airport, hotel and site only as well as dealing with the things I deal with is no picnic, but it got me thinking about the grass being greener on the other side and how we don’t really know what life and jobs are like for other people.

Last month when I received an unsolicited job offer, I read through the job description and selection criteria and saw requirements like “have a credible level of specialist knowledge based on appropriate qualifications and relevant industry experience, possess an understanding of multi-faceted and systemic safety investigation practices, have strong analytical reasoning and problem solving skills, have demonstrated skills in conducting and/or critically interpreting research and a well-developed capacity for compiling concise, logical, and technically correct written outputs, etc. etc.”.

As I read through the requirements and expectations and thought about the executive office, flash car and assistant they were offering, I compared it to my current job with Safety Wise and thought that all the generic selection criteria we see these days focus so much on technical experience and academic knowledge. How often do you see non-technical skills outlined as a requirement? I believe a real selection criteria for a role as an Investigator should be more specific and I had to laugh a little as I remembered some of the more “interesting experiences” (nice to way to phrase it) and I scribbled some thoughts down about what it’s really about.

So here’s my personal selection criteria for an Incident Investigator - in addition to the technical knowledge, capability and experience I would be interested in knowing if applicants could handle the so called non-technical requirements and challenges.

Jo's Non-Technical Selection Criteria for Investigators

The role of a Safety Investigator is multifaceted and therefore more encompassing than just attending accident sites. Applicants should frame their responses addressing their capability to handle the following challenges.

Applicants must have the ability to:

  • Forget about the notion of “after-hours”, weekends, public holidays, overtime and sick leave.

  • Not feel too guilty when you miss your child’s birthday, first day at school, special school event or grandfather’s funeral.

  • Be able to focus on the job ahead as you drive away with the sounds of your kid’s crying in the background that they miss their Mummy.

  • Think that being in the midst of an approaching Category 5 cyclone is an “experience” and not something to necessarily panic about.

  • Overcome feelings of claustrophobia and hide the fact that you’re hyperventilating as you enter mine entrances.

  • Have faith that the bars on your hotel window will be strong enough to protect you as a drunken brawl erupts outside your hotel one night resulting in two people being killed.

  • Be able to focus on the facts and evidence and be sympathetic, but not empathetic as next-of-kin turn up and you stare into the eyes of children who have just lost their father in a fatal incident.

  • Not panic as it becomes evident you may have been exposed to various hazardous things like methyl bromide and cyanide.

  • Relish the change from working in minus 7 degrees where it’s snowing, to 52 degrees with the reflection off the ore and you feel like you’re melting.

  • Think it’s funny when you hear you’re going to investigate an incident on a ship and have visions of P&O and cruises – only to turn up and realise you’re going to be on a dirty old dredger for 8 hours, in the rain and massive swell.

  • Not feel too bad when you stop to move a cow off the middle of the road with no success – only to see a road train mow it down later (I’ll leave this to your imagination rather than describe the scene of carnage).

  • Be able to find entertaining things to do when you’re travelling in rural areas with no radio reception – like counting and dodging road kill (eg. kangaroos, wombats, koalas, emus and cows).

  • Be able to ignore all that interesting data that Myth Busters presented on the amount of disgusting biological material in every hotel room as you check into your 1 star hotel in the outback.

  • Be able to hold your breath and keep a tight grip on the steering wheel for the time taken to overtake a 52 metre road train on a country road in QLD – only to see another one ahead…

  • Not feel like too much of a fraud as you’re automatically given staff discount rates at airport coffee shops because they see you so often and assume you work there.

  • Not feel lonely when you realise the staff at the Qantas Business Centre, who see you so frequently on your travels, probably know you better than some of your friends.

  • Not take offence when you turn up at a remote site and the Manager says “Bloody hell, you’re a sheila”.

  • Not panic when you realise the Manager at a remote mine site says he better arrange alternate accommodation for you because HE doesn’t trust his boys at night.

  • Be cool when confronted with 42 CFMEU delegates in one room wearing t-shirts and hats with pictures of cobra’s on them that state “If provoked we will strike!”

  • Control your fear when intimidated and threatened by MuA delegates – at night, when there’s open ocean on your right and empty shipping containers on your left.

  • Enjoy the 5 star hotels - because you just know that the following week you’ll be staying at a mine site where clean sheets on the bed in the donga are optional and you’re sharing your bathroom with 52 men… (I can’t even begin to describe this - and you thought imagining the cow being hit by the road train was bad…)

  • Have the self-control not to show your true feelings when, as the honoured guest, you are served an array of exotic food at a banquet in China where the dishes include boiled pigs ears, steamed chicken feet and fried dog (I lost 5kg’s on that trip).

  • Not be too alarmed when your chauffeur driver in China – who doesn’t speak English - gets caught in a traffic jam and drives over the median strip onto the wrong side of the 4 lane freeway and merrily drives along the wrong side into the path of oncoming traffic (while you frantically grip your nails into the seat – because there is no seat belt...)

  • Be stoic when you lift a tarpaulin up at an incident site to discover the forensic clean-up crew have overlooked a foot among other pathological bits.

  • Think it’s all in a day’s work to catch five aircraft over a fifteen hour window to arrive at your destination where, because it’s a dry community, you’re met by police who rifle through your personal belongings searching for alcohol and I have to say…seem to linger a bit too long over your lingerie.

  • Be able to contain any squealing about encounters with wildlife including wild camels, crocodiles, bats, snakes and spiders and realise that big lizards falling on to you from the ceiling while you’re in bed mean you no harm and apparently are more scared of you than you are of them…

  • Be realistic enough to recognise that the grief stricken, angry operator who just threw a chair right near your head during an interview following an incident is simply expressing his feelings and is not actually trying to hurt you.

  • Not gloat too much when 17 big burly operators on a charter aircraft get air sick during turbulence and are moaning while they fill their little white paper bags while you and the female flight attendant give each that look of “OMG, Men ! Can you believe how much they’re fussing?”

  • Be able to think on your feet when confronted by a wild camel in the dark and frantically think that the induction never covered what to do in this situation (I’ve have since researched this and feel much better prepared for next time).

  • Not reflect too much on how close you came to being a statistic when, after a particularly turbulent flight, the First Officer looks at you when you’re on the ground and in a trembling voice says “Sh*t, I’m glad we’re on the ground - we nearly lost it there.”


So upon reflection of the real job of an Investigator and thinking about the job offer where I’d be in charge of Investigators who had to go out and do the scut work while I enjoyed the simple life – sitting in an office, driving a flash car, not dealing with anything more adventurous than deciding what coffee shop to go to - I had to question was I ready to give up everything about my job that I probably whinge a bit about – the never ending travel, the constant “adventures”, the long hours and the huge variety of challenges that come with it… and I finally concluded that the job I whinge about a bit is probably the job I enjoy the most. So thanks for the offer, but I think I’ve got a few more adventures left in me for now.

Interested in Knowing More?

Further information on Safety Wise’s Incident Cause Analysis (ICAM) Training is available from our website:

Additional ICAM Related Services

Safety Wise also offers the following additional services for sites that adopt the ICAM investigation analysis method:

  • Quality review of incident investigations using ICAM

  • Trend analysis of organisational factors contributing to serious incidents

  • Participation in investigations as an external / independent party


Jo De Landre

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