Even when the cause of the adverse event is identified, investigators should drill down further to identify other factors that may have played a role, says Edwin G. Foulke Jr., JD, partner with the law firm of Fisher Phillips in Atlanta and former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Rather than just asking witnesses to recount the event, ask more probing questions such as the following:
- Was there anything unusual or different about the working conditions at the time?
- Were you or anyone else multitasking at the time? Was your attention diverted by something else?
- Were you surprised that this happened? Did you worry beforehand that this could happen at some point? What made you think so?
- What did you first think when this happened? Did you know right away why it happened or have a suspicion?
- Were the proper procedures being followed? Were any steps skipped?
- Did someone voice concerns before this happened? What was the response?
- How long had it been since you had a break? Were you or anyone else particularly fatigued for any reason?
- Were the people involved competent for their jobs? Did you have any concerns before the event?
- Was the equipment insufficient in any way?
- Was there any disagreement or any personal issues between people involved?
- Do you regret anything you did or didn’t do? Do you regret not speaking up about something?
- Can you explain this inconsistency in what you said? You said this at one point, but then you said that, so can you help me understand?
- What do you think would prevent this from happening again? If you could go back in time and stop this, what would you do?
“These are questions that people usually don’t ask because some of them are not comfortable, like asking if your colleagues are competent and sufficient for their tasks or if they have any regrets,” Foulke says. “But they need to be asked, and people usually won’t volunteer this kind of information if you just ask them what happened and leave it at that.”