Incident Reporting and Investigation
Your company should aim to maintain a safe and healthy environment by correcting situations that caused or could likely cause injury. When an incident occurs, it is important to report the occurrence so actions such as an investigation can be taken to make sure that a similar or more serious incident does not happen again. Many safety activities are reactive and not proactive, and some organizations wait for losses to occur before taking steps to prevent a recurrence. Near miss incidents often precede loss producing events but may be overlooked as there was no harm (no injury, damage or loss). An organization may not have a reporting culture where employees are encouraged to report these close calls. Thus, many opportunities to prevent the incidents are lost. History has shown repeatedly that most loss producing events (incidents), both serious and catastrophic, were preceded by warnings or near miss incidents. Recognizing and reporting near miss incidents can significantly improve worker safety and enhance an organization’s safety culture.
Near miss reporting is vitally important to preventing serious, fatal and catastrophic incidents that are less frequent but far more harmful than other incidents. Incidents occur every day at the workplace that could result in a serious injury or damage.
What is an incident?
There are two types of events that fall under the definition of an incident for the purposes of reporting guidelines:
The first is an event that resulted in an injury.
The second event is one called a Near Miss. A near miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness or damage, but had the potential to do so. Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented an injury, damage or fatality.
It is extremely important to report incidents right away, no matter how minor it may be. Even if the injury is minor or if there is no initial injury and you feel it is not worth reporting, the incident must be documented. The reason for this is that minor injuries can worsen over time and become more of an issue, or an ergonomic injury can become apparent several days or months after the initial cause. If this happens and there was no report of the incident, it may be difficult to argue that it happened at work. Furthermore, reporting an incident right away will allow for corrective action to be taken sooner, possibly preventing others from becoming injured,and ensure the details are accurate as the event will still be fresh in your mind.
Investigations are in important part of due diligence. Investigations will help to uncover the root causes of the incident, and provide those involved with better information about how to correct and prevent the situation for the future.
Employee participation in any near-miss program is vital, P bar Y Safety said. “It’s employees themselves who witness these things,”.
Workers should be trained on how to properly identify and recognize potential hazards. To help make it easy for employees to submit near misses and ensure good data, consider allowing them to turn in near-miss reports anonymously, P bar Y Safety suggested.
“If we require them to put their name on it, some of the information we would otherwise get wouldn’t happen,” he said.
To get employees in the habit of turning in near-miss data, employers may be tempted to set quotas. But P bar Y Safety advises against this. Although quotas may be beneficial for establishing expectations when kicking off a new reporting program, they said, continuing these requirements could negatively affect the quality of the information employers receive.
“If people look at it as an obligatory quota thing, they might just get it out of the way right away,” P bar Y Safety said, cautioning that workers who have met their quota may ignore subsequent – and potentially more dangerous – near misses.
Additionally, safety pros may find more support from employees when investigating a near miss than when investigating an incident. “Many times, I’ve found people are much more open to make a positive team contribution towards the prevention of an accident through the discussion of a near miss than if an accident has already occurred,” P bar Y Safety said. “People seem more willing to talk than when something has happened.”
Employees want to know their employer is serious about the program, so management needs to work hard and be persistent in promoting the value of near misses, he said.
Behaviors or conditions can cause a near-miss incident. Examples include:
- Failure to maintain or repair equipment;
- Removal of machine guards;
- Failure to keep walkways free of slip, trip or fall hazards;
- Inadequate training or personal protective equipment;
- Not following procedures or poor procedure enforcement. No matter what the reason, if unsafe acts or conditions are identified and corrected, injuries most likely can be prevented. Ask what other information would be important to preventing future incidents. Examples include:
- Factors contributing to the incident (include unsafe acts and/or unsafe conditions);
- Corrective actions necessary;
- Responsibility for corrective action and date to be completed. In general, collect as much information as possible but remember the key point: The information must be effectively communicated throughout the organization to increase its value.
“You have to demonstrate over time you’re committed to it,” P bar Y Safety said. “If you can do that, you’ll have a better program.” Overcoming barriers to reporting
Many obstacles stand in the way of operating and utilizing an efficient and effective near-miss reporting program:
Fear of blame: Many employees are afraid to report near misses because either they don’t want to admit that they didn’t follow safety procedures or they will be mistakenly accused of doing something wrong. To create a truly effective near-miss reporting program, this stigma must be eliminated.
For near-miss reporting to work well, employers need to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere. The goal is to make employees so comfortable about the process that they report them as easily and freely as they would report a garbage can is full or a light bulb is burned out. Blame cannot be part of the equation – period.
Incoherent indifference: Another enemy of effective reporting is indifference. When a near miss occurs, some employees may question whether the situation was substantial enough to be recorded. When this happens, employees often simply disregard the event. This mindset can be lethal to a near-miss reporting program.
Hazards that are overlooked or dismissed as minor are lost opportunities for valuable insight. Employees should be trained on the importance of reporting each and every near miss. A clear definition should be provided on what constitutes a near miss, including any situation that appears to be “unsafe.” Once employees understand the importance of reporting and are clear on the definition of what defines a near miss, they will feel confident about their judgment and empowered to report.
Lack of supervisor support: Employees usually follow their direct supervisor’s instructions in most job-related situations. If a supervisor does not treat near-miss reporting as a priority, there is a good chance their personnel won’t either. Supervisors need to encourage this type of reporting and set an example by reporting near misses themselves. When employees know that their supervisors are completely on board with near-miss reporting, it is easier for them to feel comfortable to report, as well.
Near-miss reporting is a critical component of any well-organized and effective safety program. Over time, near-miss programs have been shown to save millions of dollars in medical care and equipment replacement costs. More importantly, they save lives.
Success is measured many ways
Report all near-miss incidents. It is a proposition you cannot afford to ignore. Conclude by stressing to document all near misses. Incident prevention begins with identification. All near-miss incidents should be immediately documented using your company’s incident report form and incident reporting procedures