Fire e1578679972625

The term “accident” is often used to describe an unplanned event that disrupts an ongoing activity and may result in injury or property damage. There’s a distinction between “accident” and “incident,” with the latter referring to unexpected events that didn’t cause harm but had the potential to. “Near miss” and “dangerous occurrence” are terms used for events that could have been harmful but weren’t.

Incident investigation, also known as accident investigation, is a formal process for reporting, tracking, and determining the causes of incidents. Outcomes of industrial incidents vary from minor injuries and property damage to severe consequences like fatalities and significant chemical releases. Thorough investigation of all incidents is crucial to identify root causes and understand the incident fully – what happened, how it happened, why, the failures that led to it, and robust control measures to prevent it from recurring.

During an investigation, gathering witness statements is vital for multiple perspectives, and taking photos provides valuable visual evidence for reconstructing the scene. Collecting physical evidence is also essential for tangible proof supporting the investigation. The goal is to identify the root cause, share findings, and implement changes to prevent future accidents.

Incident investigations are crucial to prevent recurrence by identifying contributing factors. They are also key in legal and insurance contexts, helping to establish liability and factual bases. Furthermore, OSHA mandates that employers must investigate workplace incidents, including fires and explosions, that result in injury, illness, or could potentially cause serious harm (29 CFR 1904.39), as part of their duty to maintain a safe workplace.

NFPA 921, “Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations,” by the National Fire Protection Association, is a recognized standard for fire and explosion incident investigations. While not law, it’s often used in legal settings and by professionals as a guideline for best practices.

Successfully investigating combustible dust, flammable liquids, and gas fires or explosions depends on thorough planning, accurate documentation, the investigation team’s expertise, management support, and resource availability. The following steps are usually used to investigate an incident.

Scene Security and Preservation: The first step is to secure the scene to preserve evidence. This involves controlling access to the site and protecting it from further damage.

Documentation: Documenting the scene meticulously is crucial. This includes taking photographs, making sketches, and writing detailed notes. Everything observed should be recorded.

Data Collection: Collecting data involves gathering information about the incident, including witness statements, fire patterns, and physical evidence. It also includes understanding the building construction, systems present (like electrical and HVAC), and the materials involved.

Scene Examination: A thorough examination of the scene is conducted to identify the area of origin. Investigators look for fire patterns, burn marks, and other indicators that point to where and how the fire or explosion started.

Hypothesis Formation: Based on the collected data, investigators formulate hypotheses about how the incident occurred. These hypotheses should consider all possible ignition sources and scenarios.

Testing Hypotheses: Investigators test the hypotheses against the collected data. This may involve experimenting, re-examining the scene, or consulting with experts.

Analyzing the Cause: After testing the hypotheses, investigators analyze the findings to determine the most probable cause of the incident.

Report Writing: A comprehensive report is written, detailing the investigation process, findings, and conclusions. This report should be clear, concise, and supported by the data collected.

Peer Review: Ideally, the report and findings should be reviewed by peers or other experts in the field to ensure accuracy and completeness.

Follow-up: In some cases, follow-up actions may be necessary, such as additional investigations, legal proceedings, or changes in fire safety practices.

Our incident investigation typically includes:

  • Schedule an on-site visit to your facility for an immediate and thorough inspection of the fire or explosion scene, aiming to document the area, identify, and gather crucial evidence for the investigation.
  • Formulate hypotheses considering all pertinent factors related to the incident.
  • Thoroughly document the scene and secure any relevant evidence for analysis.
  • Assist in reconstructing the incident and conduct forensic analysis, including laboratory testing, to understand the event’s dynamics.
  • Ascertain the starting point and cause of the incident through detailed investigation.
  • Conduct a comprehensive root cause analysis to uncover the underlying factors of the incident.
  • Develop and propose robust strategies to significantly reduce the likelihood of similar incidents in the future.
  • Offer professional expertise for legal proceedings and litigation support, if necessary

Why Perform Fire and Explosion Incident Investigation?

Investigating fire and explosion incidents in the process industry is crucial for several compelling reasons. Primarily, it enables the identification of root causes, whether they are procedural, mechanical, or due to human error. Understanding these underlying factors is essential for preventing recurrence and enhancing overall safety. Investigations also contribute to compliance with safety regulations and standards, ensuring that the industry adheres to best practices and legal requirements. Moreover, they provide critical insights into potential weaknesses in existing safety systems and protocols, allowing for targeted improvements. By thoroughly examining fire and explosion incidents, the process industry can not only safeguard its workforce and assets but also maintain operational integrity and public trust. Such investigations are pivotal in fostering a culture of continuous learning and safety enhancement within high-risk industrial environments.

Why Work with Prime Process Safety Center

  • Expert Analysis: Our team possesses deep expertise in analyzing fire and explosion incidents, ensuring thorough and accurate investigations.
  • Advanced Investigative Techniques: We employ the latest investigative techniques and tools to determine the root causes of incidents, ensuring comprehensive understanding and resolution.
  • Regulatory Compliance Insight: Our knowledge of safety regulations and standards ensures that our investigations align with legal and compliance requirements, providing peace of mind.
  • Detailed Cause Identification: We focus on identifying all contributing factors, both direct and indirect, to provide a complete picture of the incident and prevent future occurrences.
  • Comprehensive Reporting: We provide detailed reports that include findings, causative factors, and recommendations for corrective actions to enhance safety measures.
  • Preventative Strategy Development: Beyond investigation, we help develop strategies to prevent similar incidents in the future, improving overall safety protocols.
  • Confidential and Impartial Service: Our investigations are conducted with the utmost confidentiality and impartiality, ensuring unbiased results.
  • Employee Training and Safety Culture Improvement: We offer training and recommendations to improve the safety culture, empowering your staff with the knowledge to prevent future incidents.
  • Experience Across Various Industries: Our experience spans multiple industries, enabling us to handle a diverse range of fire and explosion scenarios.
  • Ongoing Support and Consultation: Our service extends beyond the initial investigation, offering continued support and consultation to ensure long-term safety and compliance.


1. What is the purpose of investigating fire and explosion incidents in industries?

The primary goal is to identify the root cause of the incident, prevent future occurrences, ensure regulatory compliance, and improve overall safety protocols. Additionally, accident investigations are important for defending against claims, determining liability, and establishing a factual basis for legal or insurance proceedings. Investigating accidents helps in finding the root cause, addressing underlying issues, and preventing similar accidents in the future.

2. Who should conduct these investigations?

Conducting an incident investigation is a multifaceted task that necessitates collaboration among professionals from diverse disciplines, including process safety management, engineering, and industrial operations. Typically, this team might include managers, safety officers, technicians, engineers, operational experts, and union representatives, among others. The person responsible for leading the investigation plays a crucial role in its success and significantly affects employee safety by identifying measures to prevent similar accidents in the future.

3. What are the first steps in a fire/explosion incident investigation?

Initial steps include securing the scene, ensuring safety, collecting initial data, and gathering evidence like witness statements and physical items.

4. How is the root cause of an incident determined?

By analyzing evidence, reconstructing the incident, testing hypotheses, and considering all possible contributing factors like equipment failure, process issues, and human factors.

5. What role do regulatory bodies play in these investigations?

Bodies like OSHA and NFPA provide guidelines for investigations and may be involved in reviewing findings, especially in cases of regulatory non-compliance.

6. Why is documentation important in these investigations?

Detailed documentation is crucial for understanding the incident, making informed recommendations, legal proceedings, and insurance claims.

7. How are findings from an investigation used?

Findings are used to develop corrective actions, enhance safety measures, inform training programs, and adjust policies to prevent similar incidents.

8. What challenges might investigators face?

Challenges include incomplete information, complex industrial processes, potential legal implications, and the technical nature of fire and explosion dynamics.

9. How long do these investigations typically take?

The duration varies based on the incident’s complexity, ranging from a few weeks to several months.

10. Are the results of such investigations made public?

While some aspects might be confidential, key findings and safety recommendations are often shared within the industry for broader safety improvement.

11. What is incident investigation

Incident investigation is a structured process used to uncover the causes and circumstances of an incident, typically in a workplace or industrial setting. The term “incident” broadly covers any event that leads to injury, illness, damage to property, or near-misses that could have resulted in harm but did not. The primary objectives of incident investigation are to understand why and how the incident occurred and to develop strategies to prevent similar events in the future.

12. What is the regulatory requirements for incident investigations

The regulatory requirements for investigating fire and explosion incidents can vary depending on the country, region, and specific industry involved. However, there are some common regulations and standards that are generally followed in many parts of the world, particularly in the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): OSHA mandates that employers must investigate workplace incidents, including fires and explosions, that resulted in injury, illness, or could potentially have caused serious harm (29 CFR 1904.39). This is part of an employer’s duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

13. What should be done during incident investigations?

In the course of an investigation, acquiring witness statements is essential for obtaining various viewpoints and accounts that enhance the comprehensive understanding of the incident. Capturing photographs is equally critical, as visual records offer significant insights and assist in reconstructing the event. Additionally, securing physical evidence is imperative, as it serves as concrete verification and aids the investigative process. Identifying the underlying cause and disseminating the results to avert future incidents is crucial for learning from the event and enacting required modifications to prevent similar happenings in the future.