Learn your lesson

18 August 2020

NEBOSH, a global provider of health, safety and environmental management qualifications, considers how organisations can get the most out of their investigations – and where they sometimes go off-script.

EVERY HEALTH and safety professional knows that learning the lessons from incidents – whether or not they’ve resulted in someone being harmed – is one of the best ways of preventing further incidents. In order to learn those lessons, you need to find out what happened and why. Somehow, translating this into thorough, effective incident investigations is not as straightforward as it might sound.

An incident of whatever type – accident, dangerous occurrence or near-miss – is a chance to learn; it’s one of the best opportunities an organisation will have to review and improve risk controls. An incident can tell you how things arebeing done, as opposed to how you think they are being done, and an effective investigation will uncover any weaknesses in your systems. 

Carrying out investigations is a necessity if employers are to meet their responsibilities under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations to monitor and review their preventive and protective measures. And yet there has long been a suspicion that many organisations are not investigating effectively: perhaps because the process has become about ticking a box rather than gaining insight, or maybe because the person charged with investigating lacks the knowledge or confidence to perform the task well.

Beyond the obvious

An inadequate investigation will rarely get beyond the obvious – “XYZ happened because the individual wasn’t following the correct procedure” – and will frequently attribute blame, often citing that convenient catch-all: “human error”. All too often, incident investigations result in reports that offer a shallow examination of the immediate circumstances, rather than a careful exploration of all the factors. 

What these investigations miss are the crucial underlying and root causes. For example, a thorough investigation – involving interviews with the key people involved – might reveal that an individual didn’t follow procedure because production targets put them under time pressure, meaning they had to deviate from the prescribed method of work to get the job done. Rushing to blame an individual rather than considering the wider processes and procedures increases the likelihood of a similar incident happening again.

At NEBOSH we’ve long been keen to meet the demand for practical training by developing a specific qualification. That’s why we partnered with the Health and Safety Executive, Great Britain’s Health and Safety Regulator, to create the NEBOSH HSE Introduction to Incident Investigation qualification. This one-day, entry-level qualification is designed to give learners the knowledge and confidence to investigate minor incidents.

One of the key elements of this qualification – and of sound investigation strategies – is the P.E.A.C.E model of interviewing: 

  • Planning and preparation

    • Create an interview plan

    • Prepare questions you want to ask

    • Choose a suitable interview location 

    • Collate evidence already collected

    • Ask if any representatives required

    • Do you need additional support, for example a translator, HR

  • Engage and explain

    • Establish the aims and objectives of the interview

    • Build a rapport

    • Use open questions and avoid leading questions or prompting an answer

    • Use closed questions to establish facts

    • Use a note taker

    • Listen! Process and understand what is being said then respond accordingly.

  • Account, clarification and challenge

    • Opportunity for further exploration/investigation

    • Challenge contradictions

    • Identify inconsistencies in the evidence 

  • Closure

    • Summarise information in the interviewee’s own words

    • Document information 

    • Outline next steps

  • Evaluation

    • Review your initial aims and objectives – have they been met? 

    • Compare information provided in an interview with other evidence

    • Review your performance – could it be improved?

Learn how to investigate non-complex incidents 

People who choose to study the NEBOSH HSE Introduction to Incident Investigation will be able to: 

  • Independently investigate simple incidents

  • Gather evidence and know how to conduct witness interviews

  • Produce an action plan to prevent a recurrence

  • Contribute to team investigations for large scale incidents

  • Positively impact the safety culture of your organisation 

Study online

The NEBOSH HSE Introduction to Incident Investigation can be studied online or via remote learning with one of NEBOSH’s accredited Learning Partners. What’s more, for learners wishing to stay safe and add to their CV during the COVID-19 pandemic, they can take their assessment and achieve the full qualification remotely too. 

For a list of Learning Partners offering this qualification via remote or eLearning, visit,

Box out

NEBOSH and BP develop bespoke qualification 

In 2019 BP, one of the world’s largest energy providers, has chosen to partner with NEBOSH in the development of two new bespoke qualifications for its employees.

BP has a small team of full-time investigators; the introduction of these new qualifications will upskill other employees. 

It is envisaged that hundreds of people, from a range of other functions, will be qualified to complement the work of the investigation and health and safety teams over the coming years. They could be called upon at any time and their new skills will help them deepen their analysis and get to the underlying cause of any incident. 

The NEBOSH Certificate in BP RCA for Skillful Investigators and the NEBOSH Diploma in BP RCA for Master Investigators were developed from BP’s existing training course. They provide learners with the practical skills they need to investigate incidents in a complex environment. 

Matt Powell-Howard, NEBOSH head of strategy, has been closely involved in the development of the qualifications. He says, “As we all know, the oil and gas industry can be a complex and challenging one. Together we’ve developed something that will give people the skills to not only investigate when things go wrong, but learn from these incidents, share knowledge – within both BP and the wider industry – and put in place measures to stop them happening again. At the end of the day, it’s all about protecting people and our environment from harm - these qualifications will make a significant contribution to this goal.” 

Roger Schulp, BP lead investigator, added, “We have worked with NEBOSH to have our training and competency program accredited by an external body, NEBOSH was the right route to take given its high standards and internationally renowned qualifications. We are delighted that our programs have been accredited at Level 11 which will enable us to build on what we have already achieved.”