In one of my last articles I spoke about the DO’s of witness statement writing. In this article I want to address what topics should be included in a witness statement to make it a thorough and valuable document to include in your investigations. Too often I see employees filling out incident report forms where there is only room for a small paragraph to describe the incident and these “statements” only tend to address the few minutes leading up to the event. Here are 9 key areas of the sort of things I like to see in a witness statement which should be written by someone other than the witness involved so that you can draw out the most information possible from each and every witness.
1.The Name , Occupation, employer, work address, employment history and qualifications of the witness.
This is obviously pretty self-explanatory but in regards to who the employer is that can at times be a bit tricky when there are agencies involved or people are sub-contracting. The rule of thumb is basically who is the company stated on their pay slip. The employment history is also quite important as an indication of experience and knowledge of systems and work processes. For example, a witness may have ten years’ experience in a certain field but has only been on a particular site for two weeks and may not have a thorough knowledge of the site processes and has inadvertently reverted back to processes that he worked with on another site.
2.Describe how the witness was involved in the incident or how they have knowledge of the work activities, system of work or the persons involved in the incident.
Points of interest to be included:
- What were they doing
- How were they doing the work
- Who were they with
- Where were they located/positioned at the time
- When/how they became aware of the incident
Not only do you interview key witnesses but in this case you also have the option of taking a statement off someone who has knowledge of the work activities but may not have been involved in the event. I find that interviewing a couple of different employees will assist in providing you with a clear picture of systems , processes and other key aspects of a business’s activities
3 Describe what information the witness can give in relation to the incident. What they experienced; saw, heard, did, smelt, tasted in relation to the incident.
Each witness provides their knowledge of the incident and its cause based either on their eye witness account; subsequent investigation /inspection of the accident site; discussions with the IP or other witnesses after the incident; referring to incident reports or other investigation reports or first aid reports and accounts. Always keep this factual and in sequence making certain to confirm the date, time and place.
In this section I try and be as thorough as possible. If need be let the person draw the scene on a piece of paper and then adopt it into the statement for further reference. Also use the photographs that have been taken to jog the witness’ memory and adopt those into the statement. Be as detailed as possible, so for example, if the witness is discussing a particular object I will ask what material was it made of, its length and width, its weight and how did the witness know this etc. The more detailed you are the better your understanding of the underlying issues within the event that you are investigating. Remember we asking what, where, when, why, how and who……..over and over again.
Points of interest to be included:
- Describe the scene generally ( if applicable)
- Specifically describe all the aspects of the incident
- Identify persons
- Produce exhibits: photographs etc
4.Describe any background information relevant to the current incident.
This will include any information in the chronology of the events which leads up to the incident. In the case of an assault in the workplace by a work colleague, describe any build up or history of previous personality conflict and altercations and how management dealt with this.
5.Discuss Induction and training in relation to the activities
Obtain a full description of the witness’ initial induction and the topics covered under these instructions; duration; whether they were provided any notes or a booklet; whether they had to sign this or any other company document agreeing to their OH&S rules and company policies.
Although a number of companies will say they have no formal induction, describe their informal induction processes –
E.g. ‘At the time of commencement, I was given an orientation lecture from………..(a supervisor) and walked through the workplace. I was shown the no go areas, the lunchroom and toilets and was then placed alongside an experience worker to be trained under the “buddy system”. When he was deemed to be competent enough to perform the duties on his own, then worked with minimal supervision.’
In regard to training – provide information and copies of any certificates regarding further courses completed or qualifications obtained by the witness. Also whether the witness was trained under a multi skill system and obtained further recognition.Training and competency levels of the injured person need to be determined as part of the investigation process.Identifying deficiencies in the training process is important to identify and for facilitating continuous improvement processes.
6.Systems of work prior to the day of the incident
This will include a detailed overview of duties of the witness and the activities and nature of his/her duties.
Importantly, cover all aspects of the duties in relation to the normal system of work related to the work activities (which resulted in the incident) prior to the day of the incident. What procedures were in place and , were JHAs carried out, were Take 5s completed, had there been any near misses previously or maintenance issues and how were these actioned. Include the completed number of repetitions of these tasks in an average shift; whether there were any deadlines; any penalties; bonuses or what would happen if the worker(s) failed to meet the company output targets. Were these all factors? What system failures allowed the incident to occur? How could the incident have been avoided? During this part of the interview allow the witness to examine his/her beliefs and knowledge as to how the incident occurred. The witness may have significant knowledge in a certain field and should be allowed to express their opinion.
7.Level of supervision at the time of the incident.
Describe the type of supervision he/she was under, whether direct or whether the witness was deemed competent and trustworthy of working with minimal supervision.
8.Discuss what procedures, JHAs, Take 5s were in place prior to the incident. Were they appropriate and being followed?
Remember before taking a statement please make sure that you have read all the associated documents that you are going to discuss in the statement. Read the relevant procedures and identify if the witness has actually ever used the procedure or has been trained in it. Do they have access to it and has it ever been used a reference? The same goes for the JHA and Take 5s . look at the quality of the documents. Have the risks been addressed appropriately.
Prior to asking a witness about a procedure or JHA etc I usually ask the witness to walk me through the work process of a particular activity or to identify the hazards involved . I note this commentary in the statement. I then produce the associated document and discuss this further. In this way you can very quickly get a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding an event. Be thorough and know your documents inside and out. Highlight areas in the documents that you want an explanation for and include it in the. Statement.
9.If the accident was caused by the failure, design or mechanical problems with a machine
If the accident was caused by the failure, design, mechanical problems with a machine, describe the cause, the remedy and identify any third parties that may have been responsible for the failure.
E.g. A contracted maintenance firm who failed to properly fit a safety guard to a press machine.
Talk about one thing at a time – one thought per sentence, one sentence per paragraph.
If your company has had a serious incident or accident or is being investigated by WorkSafe we can assist your business to carry out in-depth investigations. Our personnel have years of experience in managing, coordinating and undertake highly sensitive and complex investigations of fatalities, traumatic accidents and serious incidents and preparing prosecution and legal reports for lawyers. We are also able to undertake legal privilege investigations for your in house general counsel or for your legal firm.
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