Best Practices For Securing And Documenting An Accident Scene

Secure the Accident Scene

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The first step in an effective accident investigation procedure is to secure the accident scene as soon as possible so that we can accurately gather facts. At this point, you are not yet interested in what “caused” the accident. Instead, you should focus on making the accident scene secure so that you can gather as much pertinent information as possible.

To secure the accident scene, simply use yellow caution tape, place warning cones, or post a guard to keep people away.

Don’t start documenting the scene until it is safe to do so. As the accident investigator, you don’t want to get in the way of emergency responders. It’s also not safe to start if hazards have not been properly mitigated.

Accident scene with car crash in the park

Document the Accident Scene

Once the accident scene has been roped off, it’s important to immediately begin gathering evidence from as many sources as possible during an investigation. You want to gather data that will help you determine what happened, how it happened, and why it happened.

You won’t be able to document the scene effectively unless you come prepared, so make sure you have put together an accident investigation kit for use during the investigation. As you’ll learn, there are many ways to document the scene, so it may become quite difficult for one person to effectively complete all actions.

The most effective strategy is to document as much as possible, even if you don’t think the information may be relevant. It’s easy to discard clues or leads later if they prove to not be useful to the investigation. It’s not at all easy to dig up material evidence late into the investigation.

  • Make personal observation: With clipboard in hand, take notes on personal observations. Try to involve all of your senses (sight, hearing, smell, etc.).
  • Get initial written statements: If you are fortunate, there will be one or more eyewitnesses to the accident. Ask them for an initial statement giving a description of the accident.
  • Take photos and videos: When taking photos, make sure you start with distance shots, and gradually move in closer as you take the photos. Take photos from different angles. Use rulers to size objects. Identify what is being photographed. When taking video, try to get witnesses to describe what happened.
  • Sketch the scene: Sketches are very important because they compliment the information in photos, and are good at indicating distances between the various elements of the accident. This is important to do because it establishes “position evidence.” It is important to be as precise as possible when making sketches. The sketch to the right illustrates the Triangulation Method which makes it possible to later pinpoint the exact location of an object. Notice the small circles with horizontal lines through them. These circles indicate where photos were taken. Also, North is indicated and all major objects are identified.
  • Interview records: That’s right. Don’t just review the records. Ask questions and they will give you answers. Records include training records, preventive/corrective maintenance reports, Job Hazard Analyses, standard operation procedures, work schedules, and previous hazard reports, etc.

Accident Investigation Quiz

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