The #1 Skill for Accident Investigation Interviewing (It’s Not What You Think!)

By Barbara Carr

If you asked a group of workplace accident root cause investigators what the most important interviewing skill is, the answer you would most likely get is, “Asking the right questions.” Most believe they should develop a list of questions beforehand to help get to the bottom of an incident – which is wrong. The fundamental flaw with this approach is that it is impossible to know the right questions to ask when you haven’t even heard what the interviewee saw or knows.

So, what is the number one skill for investigative interviewing? Effective listening. Only through this tactic will you be able to know the “right” questions to ask. In fact, the only question you need to know going in is: “Tell me, from start to finish, what you observed the day of the incident.”

Allow the interviewee to tell you what he or she witnessed and encourage him or her to add as many details as are needed to describe that incident, whether the interviewee feels the information is relevant to the incident or not. Don’t interrupt. Sit back, listen, and then identify which follow-up questions need to be asked.

Communicate that you are listening to the interviewee to encourage participation. Maintain eye contact – this conveys to the interviewee that you expect an answer. Maintain positive silence – showing positive body language, posture and facial expression because sometimes silence can feel intimidating.

How do you rate your effective listening skills? No one is born with them, but you can develop them with practice. The listening inventory quiz below can help you become a better investigative interviewer. Read through the following inventory statements and check for areas where you can improve your skills.

  1. I listen without interrupting or finishing another’s sentences.
  2. I am comfortable with long pauses in conversation.
  3. I don’t “tune-out.”
  4. I avoid distractions when listening.
  5. I respond appropriately when someone is talking to let them know I am listening.
  6. I am patient.
  7. When someone is speaking, I am listening and not thinking of my next question or comment.
  8. I am aware of my non-verbal messages as well as those displayed by others.

How did you do?

Practicing these skills will help you become alert to evidence that you may have missed otherwise. It is the best way to develop questions that lead to better quantity and quality of information.

Barbara Carr is Director of Marketing at TapRooT®. TapRooT® and Intelex have partnered to improve the Cause Analysis process by accurately tracking incidents, performing Cause Analysis, and applying accountable corrective actions that mitigate the risk of accident recurrence.


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