Internal vs external investigation of incidents

Certificate IV in Occupational Health and SafetyInternal investigation of OHS incidents

The workplace should have a competent, trained person who is delegated to manage safety at the workplace, and included in this delegation should be a requirement to investigate all accidents and incidents.

In addition to this PCBU-nominated safety officer, it is highly desirable to have a health and safety representative, elected by workers at the workplace as prescribed in the majority of WHS legislation, who also should handle investigations and prepare incident reports.

These reports, together with enterprise incident and incident statistics, should be reviewed at regular health and safety committee meetings, where additional comments, ideas and expertise may throw fresh light on causal factors or preventative strategies.

External investigation of OHS incidents

Depending on the seriousness of the incident or the injuries received, an investigation may be carried out by many various investigators, apart from any investigation carried out internally by the enterprise. 

The first type of external investigator that may be encountered is one representing a Statutory Authority. That is a person representing a Government Agency, which administers legislation and embraces the activity being undertaken at the workplace involved. If the injured person dies, this investigator may represent the Coroner or Police Service, a health and safety regulatory authority or a public utility (fire service, electricity, gas or water). These investigators have a legal right to be at the premises to interview witnesses, collect evidence, and in some cases stop the work process.

The next type of external investigator that may be encountered is among private inquiry agents or consultants. These investigators are normally commissioned to undertake an investigation by an insurance company representing the worker’s compensation insurer, the public liability insurer of the PCBU, or the public liability insurers of plant or equipment involved in the incident. These investigators do not have the same or any legal rights as those representing a statutory authority. Their type of investigation is normally undertaken where it appears that the injured person may have suffered an injury which may result in some form of permanent disability and may subsequently result in civil litigation. Or, where there has been substantial damage to plant, equipment or property that may also result in civil litigation. Again, these investigators do not have the same rights as investigators from a statutory authority. They do, however, have some rights under discovery provisions of the legal system. PCBUs should refer these matters to their legal representative or insurance company.

If the injured person was employed by a Government authority, or if a statutory authority investigated and reported on the incident, there may be some access to these documents by members of the public and interested parties nominated above, or indeed any person, under the provisions of Freedom of Information legislation.

Learn more about incident investigations while undertaking a Certificate IV in OHS and studying the unit – Participate in the Investigation of Incidents.