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Improving workplace incident investigations by enhancing memory recall

Carla L. MacLean (Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada)
Veronica Stinson (Department of Psychology, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada)
E. Kevin Kelloway (Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada)
Ronald P. Fisher (Department of Psychology, Florida International University, North Miami, Florida, USA)

International Journal of Workplace Health Management

ISSN: 1753-8351

Article publication date: 27 September 2011




Industrial incident investigations determine what caused an adverse workplace event so that preventative measures can be instituted and reduce the risk of such incidents happening again. Investigators gather evidence from multiple sources in an investigation and one such source is the people in, or around, the industrial incident. The purpose of the current study is to examine if recall strategy could affect eyewitnesses' recollections of a workplace incident.


The current study is a 3 (Post‐Event Context: Think, Filler, Discuss)×2 (Incident Investigation Form: Psychologically‐Based vs. Standard Investigation Form) between‐subjects factorial design. Participant‐witnesses watched a simulated videotaped workplace incident (n=196) then either: thought about the event, discussed it with fellow witnesses, or engaged in an unrelated task. Subsequently, participants recalled the details of the adverse event on an incident report form: a Standard Investigation Form or a form based on principles of cognition (Psychologically‐Based Form).


Compared to the Standard Investigation Form condition, eyewitnesses in the Psychologically‐Based Form condition recalled significantly more pieces of accurate information at a reduced accuracy rate. Post‐event context produced no significant differences in participant‐witnesses' reporting.

Practical implications

The data suggest that incorporating some principles of memory and cognition into incident investigations have the potential to enhance accurate recollection of a workplace event.


This study is among the first to apply psychological theory to enhance eyewitness reports of an industrial incident. In so doing this research contributes to recent literature that explores eyewitness recall for industrial events.



MacLean, C.L., Stinson, V., Kevin Kelloway, E. and Fisher, R.P. (2011), "Improving workplace incident investigations by enhancing memory recall", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 4 No. 3, pp. 257-273.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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