Date: April 2021
Conducting employee accident and injury investigations as soon as accidents or injuries are reported is a necessary part of determining compensability under the Workers’ Compensation Act. (Minn. Stat. § 176.001 et. seq.) As part of the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust’s continuing efforts to prevent and mitigate such claims, this resource outlines the rationale for initiating an investigation, how to conduct an investigation and how to comply with data practices laws.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other workplace safety laws have additional reporting and investigatory requirements that are not covered in this article.
Why Should You Conduct an Investigation?
A number of scenarios may necessitate employee accident and injury investigations, including the following.
1. Immediate Corrective Actions
If an employee is injured from a hazard in the workplace, an immediate investigation can locate the hazard and take corrective action to prevent future injuries. If corrective action is not taken and employees or members of the general public are injured due to the hazard, employers may face regulatory fines, sanctions and other lawsuits. Members who want more information about accident investigations, including sample forms and training materials, should contact their MCIT loss control consultant toll-free at 1.866.547.6516.
Although most injuries that occur on the job are compensable, not all are. An injury must arise out of and in the course of the employee’s work (Lange v. Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Comm’n., 20 W.C.D. 295 (Minn. 1959)). This means that if the injury follows naturally from the employee’s work or workplace, his or her injury will be compensable (Foley v. Honeywell Inc., 488 N.W.2d 268, 271 (Minn. 1992)).
To determine whether an employer is liable for the injury, it is important to investigate what the employee was doing, what the employee was supposed to be doing, where the injury occurred and how the injury occurred.
Injuries occurring outside of the course and scope of employment are not compensable. This includes unrelated medical conditions not triggered or aggravated by the workplace (e.g., a seizure), personal situations (e.g., ex-spouse attacks employee while he or she happens to be at work), or are the result of unforeseeable horseplay. If these occur, the employer will not be held liable for the injury. Therefore, it is important that MCIT know the circumstances surrounding the injury as soon as possible to be able to prepare appropriate defenses as needed.
What Should You Do After an Injury Is Reported to a Supervisor?
1. Investigate Immediately
As soon as an accident or injury is reported, members should investigate it immediately. The timeliness of employee accident and injury investigations directly affects the outcome.
Make sure the injured worker has received or is receiving proper medical attention. The injured worker and his or her supervisor should call the Workplace Injury Hotline at 1.833.523.0277 as soon as possible to speak with a registered nurse and discuss appropriate first aid. If the supervisor is not available, the employee should make the call. This call also serves as the first report of injury and begins the claim process. In some cases, such as a severe injury requiring immediate care, cases of near misses or very minor accidents, the hotline should not be used and other reporting methods should be followed.
Secure the area where the employee was injured and make sure it is safe before investigating. Never send employees into potentially hazardous situation. If it seems dangerous, employees should follow the organization’s guidelines on handling the hazard.
Speak with the employee and any witnesses as close to the date and time of the injury as possible. Determine if any warnings (e.g., Tennessen) are appropriate and provide them as necessary.
When investigating and talking to the employee, think “W”:
- What happened?
- What was the employee doing at the time of the accident?
- What was the employee supposed to be doing at the time of the accident?
- What happened next?
- What other information does someone have regarding similar incidents involving others?
- What is the source of the information (direct versus hearsay)?
- What part of the body was injured?
- What other injuries does the employee have?
- Who was there?
- To whom was the incident reported?
- When did the injury happen (date and time)?
- When did the employee first complain to his or her supervisor (or other person)?
- When did the employee first feel pain?
- Where did the incident(s) happen?
- Where was the employee (physical location)?
- Why does the employee think this happened?
- Why did he or she wait (stated period of time) to report the incident(s)?
If possible, take photographs of the area where the employee was injured. If the worker was injured by a machine, take pictures of the machine. Examine it and any protective equipment as they existed. Do not throw away any broken or damaged components, as they may be the subject of future litigation.
Record all observations of the area in as much detail as possible. For example, if it is a slip and fall outside of the building, record the recent weather, snowfall, the conditions of the sidewalk where the person fell, if salt or sand is visible, and anything else seen. Do not worry about putting too much information into this recording, it is always better to have too much than too little.
Gather any other preliminary information available regarding the accident or past similar accidents.
Provide all gathered information to MCIT as soon as possible. The more detailed information provided, the better MCIT is able to determine compensability and provide injured employees with benefits in a timely fashion. Late reporting by either the member or MCIT may result in penalties.
2. After-injury Investigation
Not all injuries resolve immediately after treatment. Some injuries require time to heal, and employees may miss work as a result of the injury. If this is the case or the injury appears severe enough from the outset, consider a protracted investigation into the injury. This may include interviewing other employees and the injured worker’s supervisor, and a more detailed discussion with the injured worker.
3. Use Gathered Information to Mitigate Future Injury
The information gathered in the investigation should also be used to determine the root cause(s) of the injury and put into place corrective action to eliminate the cause(s).
What are Special Considerations in Conducting Employee Accident and Injury Investigations?
1. Assume Discoverability
It is essential to remember that any investigation may be open to review. The investigator’s notes and mental impressions are potentially discoverable. Thus, accuracy and thoroughness in the note-taking process are extremely important and may be crucial aspects of proving the adequacy of an investigation.
A careful and honest record of the witnesses’ statements during the interviews must be crafted. Document only the facts described to the investigator, not the investigator’s opinions. Be prepared to defend the notes as accurate documentation of statements made during the process.
2. Minnesota Government Data Practices Act
The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) (Minn. Stat. 13.01, et seq.) governs the treatment of data obtained in the context of an investigation. When gathering information during the course of an investigation, consideration must be given to the distinction between public and private data that becomes part of a potentially disclosable record.
Not all personnel data is public. In fact, most is not. The MGDPA defines “personnel data” as data on individuals maintained because the individual is or was an employee of or an applicant for employment by, performs services on a voluntary basis for, or acts as an independent contractor with a government entity (Minn. Stat. 13.43, subd. 1(2012)). If any requests for information are received regarding a workers’ compensation investigation, consult with legal counsel (e.g., the county attorney) prior to taking any actions.
Minnesota Statutes Section 13.714 governs the release of workers’ compensation data. Any details regarding an injury while the worker is living are generally classified as private data when they are collected by MCIT. If MCIT provides a response or a report regarding an individual’s claim to a member, that information remains private and is generally not releasable. This includes:
- Personal information: name, address, phone number, Social Security number, date of birth, gender and marital status.
- Injury-related information: nature of injury, body part injured, type of accident, physicians or locations where they received medical treatment, and any medical data.
- Wage and lost time information: lost time from work, number of hours/days missed and whether full or partial wages were paid for any days
- Accident information: where the accident occurred, type of accident, corrective actions taken to prevent future accidents, witness/co-worker identities and statements, time of day of the accident and a description of the accident.
If a member receives a request for workers’ compensation information, the member should contact MCIT and the county attorney/appropriate legal counsel prior to taking any actions.
Prompt Action Is Key
When a workplace injury occurs, it is important that a member investigate it as soon as possible and to provide detailed information to MCIT to ensure the accurate and effective management of the claim. These investigations, however, do not end after the initial report and can go on for many months.
When a workplace investigation occurs, a host of items must be considered throughout the process. Members who want more information about accident investigation, including sample forms and training materials, should contact their loss control consultant toll-free at 1.866.547.6516.