Using simulated investigations for accident investigation studies

Woodcock, K., Drury C.G., Smiley A.M., Ma, J., 2005. Applied Ergonomics. 36: 1-12.

Regardless of the actual causes of particular accidents, it is the causes identified by the analyst that determine what responses are made, and how safety is managed in industry. Past authors have suggested that investigation might be biased, but studies were limited by the lack of similarity to real-world investigation tasks in which investigators must decide what information to acquire as well as analyse and interpret it. A technique was developed to use simulated investigations rather than attribution judgements about causation. Three studies are described, using simulated investigation to compare elicited knowledge and hypotheses among safety specialists, to compare investigations using job aids with unaided investigations, and to teach students about investigation bias and comprehensiveness. The method was well accepted by participants and shows flexibility for a range of uses, although it may have limitations.

Author: Kathryn Woodcock

Dr. Kathryn Woodcock is Professor at Toronto's Ryerson University, teaching, researching, and consulting in the area of human factors engineering / ergonomics particularly applied to amusement rides and attractions (, and to broader occupational and public safety issues of performance, error, investigation and inspection, and to disability and accessibility.