March 9, 2021 | Barb Carr

Do you have a plan to protect material evidence?

Collecting material evidence after a workplace accident is essential to determining the true root causes. Before you can understand why an accident happened, you have to understand what occurred. The “what” is supported by material evidence. In a workplace accident investigation, “material evidence” refers to any object or factual information that may be important to determine what happened.

Why do you need a plan?

The reason you need a plan to protect material evidence is because it has a tendency to disappear. For example, shortly after an accident items like the tools used by the workers are moved or replaced, or checklists and logs used during the job look too good to be true. It not only refers to physical evidence but also intangible evidence, such as information a witness gives from memory. Memory sometimes becomes distorted. It is important to collect and examine to understand the facts, the “what,” of the incident.

Why does material evidence disappear after an accident?

There is more than one reason why it disappears after an accident. The most common reason is clean-up to make the area safe for workers to resume their jobs. There are other possibilities too. Maybe the first responders moved equipment or inadvertently destroyed it while attending to injured workers. It’s also possible that someone tried to cover up the facts of the accident to avoid reprimand.

How to make a plan to protect material evidence.

Making a plan may include defining when and/or how you will:

  • distribute and collect witness statements.
  • handle clean-up and restart after an incident.
  • take photographs/videos of the incident scene.
  • store evidence secured.
  • assign responsibility for maintaining the chain of custody for the evidence.

The best place to record your plan is in your investigation policy. An investigation policy should align with your company’s goals and performance improvement objectives for reporting problems and root cause analysis.

An investigation policy includes many things. Just a few are:

  • Criteria for deciding whether an incident is simply recorded or is investigated.
  • The process investigators will use for an investigation.
  • Investigation team requirements (who will be assigned to the investigation team? What are the qualifications of the investigator?)

So, it makes good sense to decide how you will protect material evidence until you can begin an investigation, and make it part of your investigation policy. (Don’t forget to ensure all of your investigators have read it and have been trained on evidence collection.) Also, If you have an investigation policy, make sure you are keeping it updated with lessons learned when performing an investigation.

Join our live virtual evidence collection course!

Learn more about how to collect material evidence in our upcoming 2-day virtual course. This course has been attended by incident investigators around the world, and is being offered in virtual format for the first time in June!

TapRooT® Evidence Collection and Interviewing Techniques to Sharpen Investigation Skills

June 14 – 15, 2021

About the Instructor

Barb Carr joined System Improvements in 2006. She is responsible for the continuous development of TapRooT® Evidence Collection and Investigative Interviewing Training. She is the co-author of TapRooT® Evidence Collection and Interviewing Techniques to Sharpen Investigation Skills (2017).

Barb has a background in legal and training from the National Forensic Science Technology Center. She completed human factors training at the University of Michigan. Barb has a B.S. in Psychology and is a Certified Professional Coach.

Categories
Root Cause Analysis
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