Investigating an Accident? Read These Simple Interview Techniques

You may have been assigned the role of investigating an accident and working out what actually happended, so the company could learn and prevent a future mistake. Obviously the first steps following an accident are to treat any injuries and make sure the scene is safe, so no other person can be hurt. And depending upon the severtity of the accident, the scene may need to be secured to protect the evidencee. Securing physical evidence is easier though then securing the evidence inside a person(s) mind. Memories will be inadvertantly distorted with emotions and shock following a streesful incident, and will become more altered as people talk with others, recount and reinforce what they believe happended. Others may intentionally withhold information out of fear – fear for their job (the topic of a ‘open reporting culture’ is a book all in itself). As the investigator then you need some basic interviewing techniques in order to quickly obtain the best account from all witnesses.

Your Manner and Tone is Extremely Important When  Investigating an Accident

First, set the scene. Provide a physical environment free from distractions or source of stress. While it is extremely important to interview a witness as soon as possible, allow the person some time to deal with the situation. Are they in shock because a work colleague has just died; if that colleage was a close friend, even a spouse then obviously the impact will be greater. Balance the need for learning to preven another disaster with the immediate needs of the individual and make your own judegement call. Most accident though will be minor in nature, and allow you to quicly progress into the interview process.

Seven Steps To Work Through When Investigating an Accident

Step 1 – Ask the witness to recall the events in chronologial order. Remember the ‘We have 2 ears and 1 mouth so we can listen more than we talk’. In this case, only tal to clarify parts of their story. It is extremely important to let them work through the order in their own time, in their own words. If you already have a preconcieved idea of the casues of the accident, then it is easy to start asking questions of the witness around your thoughts, rather than obtaining their thoughts! Your time will come; just get their thoughts out. (Note: an alternative to this first step, espcialy if it is tramatic as above or yo are travelling to get to the person, and their will be a time dealy is to ask the people to write down their story of events. When you get together, have them go through step 1 aobe without the notes, as we’ll use the notes later…)

Step 2 – have the witness sketch the event/area. Not only does this paint the picture for you, it uses a different part of their brain and deos unlock further recollections.

Step 3 – Effectively a variation on step 1. Have the witness now start from ‘the beginning’ and complete at the incident. And then start from the incident and continue to the end. This does work.

Step 4 – Check to see if anyhing relevant ocured after the recall

Sep 5 – Ask subject to recell events in reverse order

Step 6- Check to see if anyhing relevant ocured prior to the start of the recall

Step 7 – Focused recall, on people anf things. Good time to pull out written statement and recheck

Follow these simple steps when investigating an accident to determine the many causal factors.