Have you ever thought when your manager asked you to be part of an investigation team; “Why was I assigned to this investigation? … I don’t have any technical knowledge about this stuff!!!”
A common scenario in the workplace is:
You have just been informed by your manager that you have been assigned to assist with a workplace incident investigation into an arc flash resulting when workers attempted to rack in a circuit breaker on a switchboard. The workers were fortunate to escape with minor injuries.
You had previously heard around the lunch room that this significant incident had occurred and now wondered why you were asked to be on the investigation team when the incident didn’t occur in your area, and you have limited knowledge on electrical procedures and tasks.
What you need to be aware of is your manager has chosen you for several reasons and requires a person who:
can assist in delivering a quality outcome;
is trained in conducting investigations to your company standard;
has an independent view of the incident;
is made available to participate in the investigation without other work (excessive) distractions;
pays attention to detail; and
has attributes of an “effective investigator”
Is it sometimes the case that we doubt our ability to perform a task to the desired standard because we focus on “what we don’t know” rather than “how can our knowledge and skills add to the task?”
To adequately prepare yourself for this investigation you need to understand some fundamental elements that produce a quality investigation, irrespective of what technical subject matter is involved. These elements are where you can use your investigative strengths to influence the outcome while maintaining integrity of the process throughout the investigation.
Your focus should be on these fundamental elements which include:
the scope of the investigation;
the team; and
a proven methodology (such as the Incident Cause Analysis Method (ICAM), which provides a structured systems level investigation).
Use your understanding of these fundamental elements to set yourself into a comfortable and confident role within the team. Having limited technical knowledge on the subject matter of electrical work and procedures should not be considered a disadvantage. You need to utilise your investigative skills and other knowledge you have, such as safe systems of work, managing risks, organisational roles and responsibilities, etc, to be effective within the team.
Defining the scope of the investigation ensures the team and all stakeholders understand and focus and aim of the investigation. Your investigative skills will assist to ensure the investigation stays aligned to the scope of work, and delivers the appropriate recommendations by:
taking all information provided and validating its relevance to the investigation and, where relevant, be inclusive of this information into the process and make any changes necessary; however, always maintaining integrity of process; and
following the terms of reference for the investigation and adhering to the standard process.
This is about the investigation process identifying the casual factors directly related to, and staying aligned to, the incident resulting in the investigation outcomes preventing recurrence. Your skills meet these requirements and any technical electrical information you require can be drawn from other members of the team or from experts outside the team.
Sometimes those with high level knowledge and expertise on a particular technical matter may deviate from the scope by looking into certain evidence gathered for complex outcomes. They are influenced by relying upon documented process information as opposed to combining the written procedure with the practical application where their decisions may become based upon perception rather than fact.
Your role questions these motives and assists in the team adhering to the scope.
The team should be made up of a cross section of people from the organisation having various roles and disciplines across the business. This makeup of the team may typically include, for this electrical incident, subject matter experts on electrical work. Your limited knowledge on the technical aspect of working safely with electricity is not a challenge to the team as this technical area of the investigation is covered by another person/s.
If further knowledge and understanding of a specific process is required; then an appropriate person can be made available to address the team providing sound knowledge of the process and how it should be applied to the Legislative and organisational standard.
You are in a position to ask how a process is intended to be applied. You should then be able to understand and follow all steps; then assess whether you believe the process has a logical flow, is user friendly, and if any confusion is evident whilst applying the process. Your limited knowledge looks at this specific process for a basic and logical flow rather than looking at any complex technical electrical matter. Your thought process filters out technical electrical aspects and looks at the suitability and practicality of the process to ensure the user is not influenced to make inadvertent errors though this system driven process.
The probing questions you have asked deliver and maintain a good balance between a documented process and its practical application.
Using a proven methodology, such as ICAM, has the following characteristics to assist and guide any team member though an investigation ensuring quality and consistency. As a team member, and not having the electrical background as do some of the other investigators, allow the investigation methodology to guide you. Break it down into its components and work systematically through each one. The components are:
During the data collection process put yourself in the shoes of the workers involved in the incident and ask; “what would I need to carry out this work safely and effectively?” This question prompts you to identify the risks involved in the task and therefore what tools, procedures, safety devices, etc would be needed to keep the worker safe. You are determining what the safe system of work for the task is and therefore wanting to determine what let the system down, and why, resulting in the incident.
Once the contributing factors to the incident are identified these can be analysed (using the ICAM Analysis) to identify, if any, latent systemic health, safety and/or environmental deficiencies aligning to deficient organisational factors.
From the analysis, recommendations are assigned to address these contributing factors and eliminate or minimise the risk of recurrence.
Following this intuitive process diligently from start to finish ensures a quality outcome from the investigation.
You have added value to the team even with your limited electrical knowledge by applying the skills you have. An investigation methodology, such as ICAM, provides a structured and systems level approach to a quality investigation. Let the process guide you, whether you are the lead facilitator of a team member.
Like any task, an investigation is only as good as the people, i.e. the investigator/s. The right qualities, capabilities, characteristics and skill set make up an effective team in which you are a key player.
An appropriately selected team becomes more than just a collection of people when the strong commitment to a mutual outcome combine with the application of each of the individual’s attributes resulting in greater performance than the sum of the individual performances.
 Refer to Safety Wise Website, www.safetywise.com/effective-investigator for brochure “Attributes of an Effective investigator.”
 Refer to Safety Wise Website, www.safetywise.com for details about ICAM.
Interested in knowing more?
Further information on Safety Wise Solutions, ICAM Training and other services is available from our website: http://www.safetywise.com/
Additional ICAM Related Services
Safety Wise Solutions 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
ABOUT THE AUTHOR- Bruce Johnson (Investigator/Trainer)
Bruce's extensive experience covers engineering, organisational development and business improvement with large multifaceted organisations holding senior positions in both the private and government sector.
He has worked in both project management and change management, leading specialist teams to achieve business improvement outcomes within health and safety, maintenance management, role and business restructuring, and learning and development.
Through performing various roles across many industry sectors including manufacturing, construction, oil and gas, energy, mining, transport and dredging, Bruce offers a wealth of knowledge and the practical application of best practice management.
This experience combines to deliver the ICAM incident investigation training and independent investigations to a high standard, keeping ICAM as the benchmark across multiple industries. From the identification of business needs through to the strategic development and implementation of workplace improvement initiatives, Bruce provides a reliable and intergrated WH&S support service.