Building a HAZCHEM incident investigation team

Apr 1, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

A general hand was breaking down cardboard cartons for recycling. The cartons had previously held bottles of liquid bleach. One of the boxes had become completely saturated with bleach and the worker was sprayed in the face and eyes with the chemical. The employee was led by his supervisor to the first aid kit and a bottle of eyewash solution was emptied into his eyes. When this ran out he was led by a co-worker to use the tap in the staff toilets instead of the safety shower. He was taken to hospital where his eyes were flushed continuously for 2 hours. He was released later that day and cleared to return to work with no permanent eye damage.


Now imagine that this incident has just happened at your workplace and you want to put a team together to investigate why it occurred. You want to know why the worker was not taken to the safety shower and more insight into the emergency procedures currently in place. This blog takes a look at the pre-investigation stage when you are still building the incident investigation team.

1. Team roles and responsibilities

Before inviting anyone to join the investigation team you should consider the scope of the investigation, as well as the roles and associated duties you need need to fill. Whether you have 10 on your team or only 2, your investigation team will require someone to perform the following roles:

Role Purpose Responsibilities
Team Leader Lead the investigation.


    • Schedule meetings and co-ordinate the team.
    • Delegate roles and responsibilities.
    • Keep investigation moving forward.
    • Report activities to management.


HSE Professional Ensure WHS compliance.
Interview Panel Obtain witness testimony.
  • Obtain witness statements.

  • Interview individual witnesses.

Evaluation Team

Collect and evaluate data.

  • Collect and record evidence.

  • Reconstruct the scene.

  • Review available data.

  • Determine the sequence of events and root causes.

  • Carry out independent research.

Admin officer

Providing administration support.

  • Record interviews.

  • Collate and refine documented evidence.

  • Document meetings.

  • Prepare Final Investigation Report.


REMEMBER: Nearly all team members will have multiple roles, and in many organisations the HSE Manager will be involved in nearly all of them. Smaller teams are sometimes more efficient as it is easier to coordinate group activities.

2. Personal qualities

Next consider personal qualities. Of course your investigation team must collectively possess industry skills, experience, and knowledge, but each team member requires certain personal qualities. Essentials like:

  • Integrity - committed to the facts and finding the truth. Would not seek to mislead the investigation, conceal or falsify evidence.

  • Confidentiality - capable of keeping the actions and decisions of the investigation in confidence.

  • Impartiality - able to act in the interests of the investigation rather than their own self-interest.

  • Commitment - available to attend meetings and willing to commit for the entire length of the investigation.

 We recommend looking for these qualities in an individual before even considering their skillset, job title, and experience. From our example above — would the supervisor who took the injured worker to the first aid kit be a suitable candidate to sit on the investigation team? Would they experience pressure from their co-workers and subordinates to disclose information? We’ll take a closer look at the Supervisor’s suitability in the next section.

IMPORTANT: When evaluating potential team members, also consider if each person has the maturity to remain open-minded when new evidence or conflicting opinions are introduced to the investigation. Would they be willing to revise their own interpretation of the facts?

3. Skills and workplace representation

Now you can start considering the people in the organisation who have the necessary skills to enhance the team. Collectively your team will require the following:

  • WHS and legal knowledge.

  • Training and experience in investigation processes: gathering evidence, conducting interviews, using causation models.

  • Knowledge and direct experience of the work procedures, site layout, emergency decontamination equipment, and chemicals present at the time of the incident.

  • Administration and writing skills.

  • Leadership and delegation skills.

  • Ability to carry out research with external sources (eg, industry experts, chemical suppliers)

4. Workers and supervisors on the team

Some of the biggest challenges will be appointing team members from the same work area where the incident occurred. Even though it is harder for these people to remain impartial, they have the greatest working knowledge of the incident site. They can also put immediate remedial actions in place.

The supervisor and workers from our example at the beginning of the blog may already realise their injured co-worker should have been taken to the safety shower. But are they the best people to have on the investigation team? If you did appoint someone from that area, you would never allow a worker and their direct supervisor on the same team.

Next steps

Putting together a skilled and motivated investigation team is only one step in the incident investigation process. For a more detailed guideline, why not download our free eBook Key Steps in a HAZCHEM Incident Investigation. It provides a clear framework for investigating incidents and is another step to ensuring the chemical safety in the workplace. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below:

Key Steps in a HAZCHEM Incident Investigation

PLEASE NOTE: This event did actually happen in the USA in 2012, but for the purposes of this blog and to demonstrate incident investigation procedures we’ve added a few details. We don’t actually know if the there was a safety shower available or if the worker really did recover, though we sincerely hope he did so.

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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