Incident reporting is critical to a successful workplace safety and health program. Do your employees know how and when to submit an incident report?
All workplace incidents should be reported, documented, and investigated. This includes any situation in which:
an employee was injured or died
property or equipment damage occurred
an employee became ill while at work due to a possible reaction of workplace conditions
any other person (not an employee) was injured or became ill as a possible result of actions caused by the company or an employee
an employee was in a motor vehicle accident while driving for their job
a near-miss occurred that could have resulted in injury, death, or property damage
A hazard reporting program should also be in effect in every workplace. If any employee sees or has knowledge of any potentially unsafe workplace situation, they must be provided a way to report the hazard to management. To learn more about why hazard reporting is extremely necessary for the safety of the workforce, read this article: Hazard Reporting.
Accident vs. Incident
In the past, the term "accident" was often used when referring to an unplanned, unwanted event. To many, "accident" suggests an event that was random, and could not have been prevented. Since nearly all worksite fatalities, injuries, illnesses are preventable, OSHA suggests using the term "incident" when referring to these events.
Why is incident reporting necessary?
1. Incident reporting provides a process in which the situation can be corrected in order to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
2. If management is not aware of what kinds of problems are occurring in the workplace that may cause or have already caused injury or property damage, then it is impossible to create improved processes that will protect the workers.
3. Prompt medical attention may be needed to ensure a minor injury doesn’t become worse, develop into an infection or become life-threatening.
4. When a minor incident or a near miss is ignored (not reported), the workplace is at an even greater risk for an even more serious incident to occur in the future because the hazard or inefficient process was never provided a chance to be corrected.
5. Documenting all incidents allows a company to track patterns, realize trends, and discover anomalies.
6. Often, a correction implemented to solve a safety hazard or prevent an incident can be translated to process and production improvements.
7. With completed incident reports, a company can protect themselves from undue lawsuits. Without a complete record of what actually happened, there is not much the company can provide in defense, if needed.
8. Reporting a near miss or a minor incident is cheaper than dealing with the costs associated with a major injury, equipment failure, fatality or significant property damage.
9. Feedback from incidents that are reported provides a way to encourage employee participation in the workplace safety improvement strategies.
10. Incident reporting is a key habit that creates a stronger safety culture.
When should an incident be reported?
All incidents, near-misses and injuries should be reported immediately. The incident reporting process will determine the follow-up required, if any. The employee should not have to make a guess as to whether “their issue or incident” is worthy of an incident report. When in doubt, file an incident report.
How do employees know about incident reporting?
All employees should be trained on the incident reporting process for their company. Ideally, this training is included as part of the on-boarding process for every employee. Another approach is to have the safety manual, with incident reporting included, be required reading for all employees the first week on the job. Throughout the year, holding periodic safety meetings on the hazard, near-miss, and incident reporting processes is always a great idea.
How should an incident be reported?
Every company’s incident reporting process is different. Some companies may require employees to report directly to HR or their immediate supervisor to file a report. Others may have a very convenient online reporting system that employees can access through their company’s intranet. Typically, and at minimum, a company should provide a standard incident report form that every employee knows how to locate and any employee can complete and submit.
What happens after an incident is reported?
After any incident report is submitted, it should be taken seriously. There should never be any punitive damages associated with any employee filing an incident report. Following the company’s incident reporting process, there should be an interview with the employee to ensure all the facts have been collected, the form is complete, and the nature of the incident is fully understood. The incident reporting follow-up process should include an investigation into the incident, medical care provided to the employee (if needed), corrective actions implemented immediately and preventive actions implemented as deemed necessary to prevent future incidents of the same nature. Only then should the incident report be closed and filed. All incident reports should be saved in a secure location.
Do I have to tell OSHA about an injury or incident that happens at work?
All employers are required to notify OSHA when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related hospitalization, an amputation as a result of a work-place incident, or the loss of an eye on the job. A fatality must be reported within 8 hours. Hospitalization, amputation and eye loss must be reported within 24 hours. For more information on reporting injuries to OSHA visit this Weeklysafety.com article: Reporting Injuries & Worse to OSHA.
Refer to the following resources that provide more guidance on how to investigate a workplace incident.
National Safety Council, Near Miss Reporting
National Safety Council, How to Conduct an Incident Investigation
Hosting a safety meeting on incident reporting is an excellent way to get the word out to employees about your incident reporting process and expectations.
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