1) Control your biases

Good investigators understand what their biases are and work to control them while in investigation mode. Adopt the persona of a sports referee—the neutral arbitrator, without a stake in the outcome. This is easer said than done. You work in organizations and your leadership will have their own set of biases and perhaps even taboo topics. Yet a good investigator must adopt and maintain that open and neutral stance.

2) Take great care in what you label a fact

How to defend your findings and recommendations? Have an impeccable foundation to base your conclusions, rooted in a carefully constructed set of building blocks of evidence, each of which you can demonstrate is true. Avoid single-source information that cannot be collaborated by a second source. Remember the derivation of the word ‘‘witness” (to see, hear or know by personal presence and perception). I’m very interested when a witness says “I saw” or ‘”heard” as opposed to “I think.”

3) Improve your interviewing skills

Often the most important evidence is the recollections of witnesses. Being able to gather the information of witnesses is critically important. Only about ten percent of safety professionals tell me they have had formal training in conducting an effective interview. Most learned to interview by watching someone else do it – with no indication that the person they were watching had any formal training or talent in this area. Effective, ethical interviews require both science and art. Science gives you the basics of human behavioral principles that must underpin the interview. The art comes only with practice.

4) Avoid moving prematurely to cause analysis

No root cause analysis tool will fill in gaps in the evidence. Keep the root cause tool and any discussion about causes on hold until you and the investigation team agree you have gathered, organized and assessed all available information and have a firm timeline of the incident. Only then will the root cause methodology be effective in guiding you to identify all appropriate causes.

5) Write more explicit recommendations

Often investigation teams lose their focus and just write something down addressing the causes identified. Use a structured method of crafting your recommendations. Give them precision and impact. One common structure is the SMART method— recommendations that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Rate recent recommendations to see how they measure up to those criteria. I think you will be surprised.

Each of these five areas are totally within your control and do not require any particular support from your organization. Used as a means of self- improvement you’ll develop a reputation for the quality of your investigations.