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Launched Aug 26 1996.


The authors would welcome comments. See Koning-Peters Thesis topic posted at AIPRE on the moderated Private Forum accessible to all registered participants.

Also see posted comments previously submitted to authors
Download pdf copy of complete Thesis

The Investigator In Charge:Role or Profession
by G. Th. Koning and M.L.M.M. Peters


A current discussion within multi-modal Boards concerns the qualifications of the person who is responsible for the organisation, conduct and control of an investigation. In the field of accident investigation this person is called the investigator-in-charge, abbreviated to IIC. As accident investigation has been growing from technical issues to include complex systems in society, the tasks of an IIC are not comparable with the early days of investigation.

In a multi-modal Board, management has the responsibility to provide the Board with investigation results obtained with state-of-the-art tools. To satisfy the Board, and in fact society, with accident investigation reports, management is facilitating the work of IICs. These IICs are preferably tasked to investigations in any domain, as this will enhance the operational readiness of the Board.

The central question of our research is to identify if the IIC is playing a focal role 1 or performing a profession2 in accident investigation. For this research several methodologies were used; experience diaries, semi-structured interviews, mind mapping exercises, research of literature and a focus group meeting. The converging results of the respective methods were combined, which resulted in four high level themes for IICs:

  • the IIC as the Board's means of meeting corporate-level requirements;

  • the IIC as team leader;

  • the IIC role in establishing/maintaining confidence and trust;

  • the IIC as the administrator of the investigation process lifecycle.

It should be noted that the investigative tasks vary during the lifecycle of the investigation, making different demands on the IIC and the team. The scale of investigations also needs to be considered. In small scale investigations (with a team that does not include more than three members) the IIC needs to be a domain expert who has knowledge of and experience with the investigation life cycle. In the case of large scale investigations the focus on the required investigation skills of an IIC is more on controlling, conducting and organising different aspects, irrespective of the phase of the investigation cycle. Domain knowledge of the IIC is less required.

In our research it became clear that the IIC presently plays a focal role in the accident investigation. Accidents will be more and more complex due to the interconnection of systems. These developments have an impact on the requirements of the IIC. The IICs will be charged with complex accident investigations.

According to our opinion the approach to complex system accident investigation indicates that the function of IIC is not just a focal role to be fulfilled but is developing into a profession. Within the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) so far the function of IIC has been considered more as a role instead of a profession. By defining it as a profession people can grow to become managers for complex investigations if they are given the right challenges, study and mastery of specialized knowledge, extensive training and development into specialised skills dedicated to professional accident investigation.

This thesis ends with five recommendations for the international community of multimodal Boards, organised in the International Transport Safety Association (ITSA) and its individual member, the DSB:

  • As a multi-modal Board, the DSB should focus on the five specific domains health services, transport, energy, food and water supplies, information and telecommunications as mentioned by the Organisation for Economical and Cultural Development (OECD) report for preparing IICs for the accident investigation in complex systems.

  • In realising the complexity of the various domains a multi-modal Board, and the DSB in particular, should establish investigators as focal point for one or maximum two specific domains to establish confidence, trust and ongoing accident investigation(s) in the particular domain.

  • The International Transport Safety Association (ITSA) should initiate the development of an international recognised training program in which investigators can professionalize their skills. This will need to develop criteria around which to organise the training. Some of the required competencies are known, others are more subtle and harder to analyse and further research may be needed to elaborate criteria for these.

  • It is recommended that the training programme should recognise subsequent grades of investigator, starting with grade 1 'developing investigator' and leading to a, for example, grade 5 'senior investigator' with the competency to lead and manage a major investigation.

  • The DSB is recommended to invest further in the development of criteria and training of investigators tasked to be IIC in order to achieve and maintain operational readiness.

The contents of this thesis reflect our thoughts and although similarities might arise between the DSB and this thesis they do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Board or the individual members.

  1. A role is mostly defined as an expected behaviour in a given individual social status and social position. The functionalist approach, which is largely borrowed from anthropology, sees a role as the set of expectations that society places on an individual (Wikimedia Foundation, 2006).

  2. A profession is an occupation that requires extensive training and the study and mastery of specialized knowledge, and usually has a professional association, ethical code and process of certification or licensing. Examples are accounting, law, nursing, medicine, finance, the military, the clergy and engineering (Wikimedia Foundation, 2006).