Hello and welcome to this week’s column focused on interviewing and evidence collection for root cause analysis of workplace incidents and accidents.  Today, let’s talk about what evidence to focus on first during the flurry of activity that occurs after an accident.

Always begin with a SnapCharT®

Begin your investigation with a planning SnapCharT® – it takes just a few minutes to create an incident and add a few events that lead up to it into the TapRooT® software or into a paper-based version of SnapCharT®.  The SnapCharT® is a tool that will help you visually organize and prioritize evidence collection.

Pre-collection

So, what evidence should be collected first? Ideally, an investigator can photograph the scene at various angles and distances before carefully collecting the most fragile evidence and before disturbing the scene by removing larger, heavier, or less fragile evidence.  Once things start getting moved, it gets really tricky to remember the initial scene or understand the scene.

Locard’s exchange principle holds that every time a person enters an environment, something is added to and removed. This is sometimes stated as “every contact leaves a trace.” So, depending on the incident, the evidence may have already been altered in some way by first responders, employees or bystanders. It may also be disturbed by an investigator’s attempt to photograph it.  This is why it is so critical to cordon off a path for first responders and employees to minimize contamination (and this also helps first response and others avoid injury).

Take photographs or a video recording of the overall scene first.

After photography, collect fragile evidence

Fragile evidence is evidence that loses its value either because of its particular nature and characteristics, or because of the conditions at the accident scene. For example, blood in rain. Fragile evidence should be collected before it is further contaminated or before it disappears.

When the fragile evidence is removed, an investigator should begin by systematically collecting the “top” layer of evidence.  This may be photographing or collecting what he finds beneath that fragile evidence.  Collecting fragile evidence includes memorializing first impressions and observations in writing, including measurements of the scene that photographs cannot capture or record, including smells, temperature, and humidity.

Every accident and incident is different; however, this is a general guideline of how to get started with evidence collection.  Next week, we’ll discuss the best way to package evidence.

If you’re interested in learning more about Interviewing & Evidence Collection, I hope you will join me in Houston, Texas in November for a 3-day root cause analysis + interviewing and evidence collection course or 1-day  interviewing and evidence collection training.