Occupational and Environmental Health. Recognizing and Preventing Disease and Injury, 5th Edition. Levy BS, Wegman DH, Baron SL, Sokas RK, eds., Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2005 Nov; :683-696
There are a variety of reasons to conduct a workplace investigation. Most workers are employed in workplaces that have fewer than 100 employees, that do not have on-site occupational safety and health specialists, and that rely on external consultants for assistance with occupational health and safety. Workers' illnesses or injuries may trigger on-site workplace investigations to determine the causes of these problems. These investigations are requested by employers or employees who are concerned about workplace hazards, government officials, and/or workers' compensation or other insurance carriers of workplaces where work-related illness or injury claims have increased. Other common reasons for workplace investigations include: Trade publications, employee insurance communications, or reports in public media indicating that certain occupational injuries or illnesses are associated with one's job; Identification of similar cases of injury or illness in an industry, occupation, or workplace; Case reports on occupational safety and health listservs or from clinics or professional associations; Case reports from other sources, such as government agencies and medical journals; Communication with workers exposed to occupational safety and health hazards; and Reports from workers with persistent new symptoms after changes in work processes or job tasks. This chapter is primarily aimed at occupational safety and health professionals to whom concern has been raised about safety or health hazards or increased injuries or illnesses at a particular work site. It outlines some of the workplace investigation techniques that have been used by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Health Hazard Evaluation Program and can be adapted for use at most workplaces. It describes the general principles of workplace investigations to recognize potential hazards, prepare for and conduct these investigations, make useful and practical recommendations, and proactively intervene to implement preventive measures. After identification of uncontrolled hazards, exposures, or work conditions, the objectives are (a) to control, eliminate, or reduce them to acceptable risk levels, and then (b) to ensure that periodic reevaluation of the implemented controls is routinely performed. A systematic approach to workplace problems is important, but equally important is to reassess the need to go further at each step of a workplace evaluation. Not every hazard, working condition, or workplace concern will require an in-depth investigation; most will not require special tools or monitoring. This chapter, however, attempts to give a method to systematically approach workplace problems in general and offers techniques that can be adapted to the particular work site.