Prepare for an OSHA Rapid Response Investigation: How to conduct a root cause analysis without raising red flags

All too often employers tend to lay blame towards the victim for injuries sustained in the workplace. Whether an employee injury is classified as a near miss, incident, or an accident, all injuries should be investigated thoroughly. Understanding what “is not” wrong is just as important as what “is” wrong when troubleshooting to determine the root of the cause. BLR, Valerie Butera Esq., Eptein Becker & Green, P.C., outlines key areas of focus when preparing an OSHA Rapid Response Investigation.



Although OSHA’s new reporting rule has been in effect for less than a year, it has caused some major changes in the way that OSHA operates.  Since the new reporting rule went into effect on January 1, 2015, OSHA has received 200 to 250 reports of work-related deaths, inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye each week. As OSHA anticipated, compliance with the rule has focused the agency’s attention on industries and hazards that it had not focused on before. For example, because of the unexpectedly high number of reports of amputations from supermarkets, OSHA issued a safety fact sheet last month focused on preventing cuts and amputations from food slicers and meat grinders.

Around 40 percent of the newly filed reports have prompted OSHA inspections. Another 46 percent have resulted in what the agency refers to as a “rapid response investigation.”  In a rapid response investigation, OSHA contacts the reporting employer and instructs the employer to investigate the root cause of the incident, determine how to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, and report these findings back to OSHA in about a week.

When OSHA is dissatisfied with an employer’s response—such as reports that merely blame the victim—it will proceed to conduct its own inspection of the incident. An important related issue has not yet been resolved by the agency—that is, whether statements made in the investigation report that will result from the employer’s root cause analysis will be used as admissions by OSHA in the event of an enforcement action. Accordingly, now more than ever, it is vital for employers to understand how to conduct an effective root cause analysis and produce an effective investigation report that will help them prevent similar incidents from taking place in the future.

An employee’s supervisor often conducts a root cause investigation, but a more effective approach involves managers and employees working together, bringing a variety of perspectives to the investigation. As noted above, employers should be wary of merely blaming the victim and should instead investigate the incident thoroughly, interview the injured employee and all witnesses, and assure them that they will not be retaliated against for speaking truthfully about the incident.

The scene of the incident should also be temporarily cordoned off to enable the investigation team to document the location and any objects that were involved in the incident.  When searching for the root cause of an incident, the investigator should always be asking “Why?” For example, if a safety procedure was not followed, why was it not followed?  If inadequate training was involved, why had the problem not been identified before?  By asking enough whys, the root cause of the incident will eventually be revealed, enabling the employer to respond to the situation and minimize or eliminate the possibility of a similar incident occurring in the future.

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