Risk management: Knowledge is power

Encouraging incident reporting in the workplace is a great tool for managing risk and creating a safer, healthier, work environment. Whether an incident that resulted in injury or a near miss, employees should be encouraged to report on all workplace incidents so that the risks they face every day can be understood and managed by the business.

The importance of reporting an incident, no matter how small, should not be underestimated. Apart from personal harm, accidents can also have a detrimental effect on a business in reputational damage, compensation, fines and other penalties.

However, statistics show that incident reporting is not always happening. One industry where under-reporting appears that this is rife is housing. According to a survey conducted by Inside Housing in June this year 4 in 10 respondents who had been assaulted had not reported all incidents to their employer. Furthermore, 17.5% believe that doing so would be “a waste of time as nothing is ever done”. Around 7% said they do not have the time to report assaults because of the amount of paperwork involved, and shockingly, three respondents said reporting was “discouraged in my organisation”. A further 20% accepted physical and verbal abuse as “just part of their job”.

Undoubtedly this trend extends to other industries but by its very nature, under-reporting is hard to measure.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing

In other cases, employees may not realise the potential consequences of under-reporting. Take for example an employee working on a building site. A piece of tilling comes loose and the builder loses their footing. They regain their balance and continue with their task. Days later, another builder is sent to the site to carry out work on the same building. This time, they fall and injure themselves. Had the first incident been reported, steps could have been taken to ensure the building environment was safe and the accident prevented.

In another scenario, a community nurse has been working with a client for several months. They have been mildly verbally aggressive on several occasions but the nurse accepts this as ‘part of the job’ and continues to carry out home visits alone. One day the client becomes increasingly irritated and lashes out at the nurse, physically attacking them. Had a report been filed previously, the business may have chosen to carry out a risk assessment on the client and ensured future visits took place in a safer, controlled environment.

Creating a safety culture

Encouraging employees to report on risks is the best path to better understanding of the work environment and incident prevention.

A 2012 study by the Perelman School of Medicine found that reporting can improve safety measures, safety performance and employee’s perceptions of safety. As part of the study, a Conditions Reporting System was put into place within a radiation oncology department. All employees were encouraged to report any incidents and errors they came across no matter how small. Although the purpose of the research focused on improving patient safety, the study found that through this increased reporting an open, healthy ‘safety culture’ had been created amongst staff. Not only was the employer able to learn from reported events and develop improved safety measures, but the staff were more engaged in maintaining a safe working environment.

So why is a safety conscious culture so important?

An open, safety conscious culture is likely to improve employee satisfaction, well-being and productivity. Employees will become more alert to workplace risks and in turn take extra steps to ensure that they and the business are operating safely. Knowing that their employer will take action if a risk or incident is reported creates a sense of security and confidence that they are being cared for and of course reduces the number of accidents that occur.

Legal Reporting Requirements

In many countries, reporting accidents and fatalities as a business is a legal requirement.

The information provided through incident reporting is used to assess whether current controls are adequate, to identify trends and to ultimately focus efforts on reducing areas where incidents are high. Records can also be used in legal procedures to ensure the right people are held responsible for an accident or fatality.

Encouraging your staff to report incidents will allow you to meet your legal requirements as a business and aid in the prevention and reduction of workplace incidents. If you are unsure as to what legislation you are accountable for, bodies such as the HSE in the UK, OSHA in Canada, Safe Work in Australia and WorkSafe in New Zealand, provide a breakdown of the legislation and guides on what should be reported and by whom.

The challenges of encouraging incident reporting

Unfortunately, changing a work culture resistant to incident reporting is easier said than done. In many businesses, a complacent culture exists where minor incidents are not taken seriously. For some, aggression or violence from clients may be seen as part of the job while others may feel that their employer would not do anything anyway. Perhaps there is a belief that reporting a colleague’s mistake or behaviour may be seen as whistle-blowing. Changing that culture can prove to be difficult but there are steps that can be taken to encourage reporting.

Tips to encouraging incident reporting in your workplace

  • Educate all staff members (including managers and supervisors) on the importance of reporting
  • Brief all staff on the types of risks they should look out for and report on
  • Reiterate that no perceived or actual risk or incident is too small to report
  • Ensure everyone knows how to report an incident, when and to whom
  • Consider creating an online, anonymous method of reporting incidents
  • Or you may choose to hold a weekly meeting where incidents are discussed openly
  • Do not punish employees for reporting an incident and avoid assigning blame
  • Instead, focus on removing the risk rather than fault finding
  • Track and record all reports
  • Provide ongoing feedback on how you are dealing with an incident so that your employees can see that you are doing something with the information they provide
  • You may want to consider implementing an incentive program when first introducing a new reporting system to encourage employees to get involved with the new process


This post originally appeared on the StaySafe UK blog and is reproduced here with their permission. 

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