How to properly document accident reports

IT'S AN OLD but true clich in our profession that if you work long enough in the trade, it's not a matter of if you'll get hurt but when you'll get hurt. Except for heart attacks and strokes from job-related stress, this isn't as true for project managers as it is for the field guys that you're in charge of. Still, the fact that you, not your field foremen and not the suits above you, are in charge

IT'S AN OLD but true cliché in our profession that if you work long enough in the trade, it's not a matter of if you'll get hurt but when you'll get hurt. Except for heart attacks and strokes from job-related stress, this isn't as true for project managers as it is for the field guys that you're in charge of.

Still, the fact that you, not your field foremen and not the suits above you, are in charge of the day-to-day safety, health and on-the-job well-being of your field personnel means you have to stay in a constant state of vigilance.

Does your company have one or more persons designated as company safety officers? Do these people have the duty and authority to communicate and enforce all aspects of the company's safety policies and procedures? If so, have you and your crews complied with every requirement of your company's safety plan(s), such as weekly "toolbox talks" that each field employee present must sign off on, yearly review and signing off on the company's safety manual, or other OTJ task-specific safety procedure review and training?

If your company doesn't have a set of codified safety policies and procedures in place (blind stupid, in my opinion, if your company doesn't) or even if it does, when an accident happens, you still need to properly assess, act upon and document all factors related to the incident.

First, when an accident happens, who is the responsible party that will determine the next course of action? Is it you, the onsite PM, or is it a different person onsite who's had specific safety or first aid training, or is it an off-site safety official?

If the situation is truly critical such as a trench collapse or an employee with a serious burn, orthopedic injury or open wound, then even the most rigid of protocols go out the window and immediate treatment of wounds is needed.

After the wound or incident has been triaged, the immediate danger mitigated and either EMS has been called or the worker has been transported to a local walk-in urgent care center, then the real work of documenting the incident begins. You can't afford to waste a single precious second before beginning the process of doing this.

With at least one witness present (any other person outside your company who will be a reliable and responsible party to witness your friendly interrogation), ask your employee to describe in second-by-second detail exactly what happened.

Do not ask him why it happened. That's not important at this point and is for others to determine later in any case. Do not let him try to justify any of his actions leading up to, during or after the incident. Make him stick to the facts, to the timeline of the incident, as it happened!

Write his words down verbatim as best you can, syllable-for-syllable if at all possible, but do not dawdle in your scribbling of his storytelling. Let him express himself in a flowing, conversational manner.

During this process, ask pointed, relevant questions regarding timeline benchmarks but do not attempt to place blame yourself or speculate on why the accident happened. To do so would defeat the purpose of obtaining an accurate timeline of the incident, and would be as wrong as if you let the employee stray from the need to get the facts of incident down now, when the images are fresh in his and everyone else's mind.

After you've obtained written documentation of the incident from the employee, get him to sign it, you sign it and have your witness sign it also, date and time it to the precise minute, make a copy of it, give the copy to your employee and you keep the original.

If the injuries in question are visible, use your job camera to make a series of photographs of the injury itself and take a couple of the employee too, showing his facial expressions and how he was dressed and similar features which might be relevant later on if an investigation is held.

Then ask all who witnessed the incident, such as employees of other subcontractors who were nearby when it happened and saw all or at least a good portion of what went on. To keep them all from modifying their stories to fit an impromptu "group consensus," try to conduct these interviews in private as much as possible, and get them to sign off of on their comments as well.

Go into the jobsite's footprint with your camera and take as many photos of where the accident happened as practical, using one or more employees as "stand-ins" to show where the injured employee was when the accident happened.

Then, sketch out the immediate area where the accident happened, using roughly accurate dimensions to show features, heights, widths, etc., of where the accident took place.

These hand-drawn depictions, along with the photographs just taken and eyewitness accounts properly documented, could be crucial later on to determining exactly how the incident happened and could theoretically save your and your company's behind in court, should things regrettably ever go that far.

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He may be reached by calling 919/ 851- 9550, or via e-mail at [email protected].