The process of investigating a chemical incident is a lengthy procedure that aims to reveal the factors that led to the unwelcomed episode, and to establish the conditions that will prevent its future repetition.

Experienced investigators take all possible causes into account. Their research must produce a report containing the facts, the reasons and the details that can be shared with the public.

Here is a short guideline that will help any team of investigators to complete their analysis quick and easy:

The Glossary

First things first, an investigation report is based on a specific glossary that is established before the actual review of the incident begins. The department that conducts the survey has the duty to enact a glossary with each term carefully explained. Here are the most common abbreviations and concepts that you might find in a chemical incident report:

  • RCA – root cause analysis.
  • SVA – security vulnerability analysis.
  • Root Cause – a fundamental reason that pinpoints the exact failure that led to the chemical incident.

The first step – Acknowledging that an event has occurred

The process of investigating a chemical incident starts with the realization that an actual mishap has produced temporary or permanent damage to a product, a system or an operation. In this case, there are two types of incidents that define a failure:

  • Loss event – when an actual loss occurs and the damage is irreversible
  • Near miss – when an event or a series of events reveal that an individual operation or system could have been harmed if certain circumstances had been different.

Both incidents follow the same procedure that is characterized by an immediate stop to the entire operational program. If the failure is a loss event, actions are taken to minimize the damage produced and to prevent further harm. On the other hand, if the incident is a near miss, the investigators prepare a selection of preventive steps that are issued before the operational program resumes.

The second step – Analyzing the events

The investigation of a chemical incident has to start as soon as the failure has been acknowledged. This step is essential because the crucial evidence for the inquiry might be lost or modified if a delay occurs. Chemical substances tend to change their structure after an operative failure, which would make the entire analysis more difficult.

Single vs. Team investigation

There is a lot of debate in the research field if an incident investigation should be conducted by a single professional or a team of scientists. For now, the general consent is that this rule should apply depending on the circumstances, which are unique to every incident. The advantages of using a team of investigators are:

  • Multiple perspectives regarding the root cause.
  • More investigating resources that speed up the entire process.
  • More investigators gain experience at the same time.

The final step – Documenting and recording the process

The investigation of a chemical incident might vary between a few days and a couple of months. Some extreme cases require entire years to provide a solid conclusion. It is the investigator’s duty to document and analyze all the data and information and to report his verdict to the appropriate authorities.